BOB WEST ON GOLF: Braden Bailey gearing for Korn Ferry, maybe Houston Open

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Assuming Houston doesn’t float away in the next few days, it could be the scene of some pretty special memories over the upcoming three weeks for Port Neches-Groves ex Braden Bailey.

Starting next Tuesday on the Gary Player Course in The Woodlands, Bailey will take what he hopes is the first step toward gaining membership on the Korn Ferry Tour. The Player Course is one of 12 stage one qualifiers for the Korn Ferry Q School set for mid-December in Florida.

If Bailey finishes in the top 28 in a field of 78 players over 72 holes, he’ll move on to stage 2 scheduled for Nov. 6-9 in McKinney.

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Based on the Baylor grad’s play in three All Pro Tour events the past month, you have to like his chances. In APT tournaments at Natchez, Mississippi, Lufkin and Victoria, he finished tied for third, fourth and third, respectively. He was a combined 38 under par, with eight of 12 rounds in the 60s.

Most impressive for a young guy competing against a lot of seasoned veterans, Bailey didn’t back off when in contention on the final day. His closing rounds were 70-67-66 for a stroke average of 67.7. That’s nearly a full stroke better than his 68.8 for the other nine APT rounds.

What that says to me is that four years in a top flight college program, talent and some inbred mental toughness, bodes well for Braden’s future in golf. It also says that sometime in the not too distant future, he could join Andrew Landry and Chris Stroud to give PNG an almost unprecedented three guys in a PGA event.

Actually, that might happen sooner rather than later.

Bailey is under consideration for a sponsor exemption into the Oct. 10-13 Houston Open, now under the leadership of the Houston Astros. Several factors come into play on sponsor exemptions, with one of them being what a player can add to a tournament’s appeal and attendance.

The usual suspects are veteran players who have fallen on hard times and have a history with a particular tournament. John Daly would be an example in Houston. So would Stroud if he had not regained his tour card. Lamar ex Shawn Stefani could be a candidate, if he doesn’t otherwise qualify.

There are two big factors seemingly working in Bailey’s favor. No. 1, Lamar grad Giles Kibbe — Astro owner Jim Crane’s right-hand man — and former LU golf coach Brian White are heavily involved in the Houston Open. No. 2, having Bailey, Stroud and Landry in the field would almost certainly bring a huge influx of fans from the Golden Triangle.

With the Houston Open in the tough position of competing against college football and the NFL, that is no small consideration. Getting people to attend a golf tournament in Texas in the fall is a monumental challenge.

Offering a young player with promise a sponsor exemption certainly isn’t unprecedented. Tiger Woods got one from the LA Open when he was in high school. Jordan Spieth earned the same treatment from the Byron Nelson Open as a schoolboy. More recently, 17-year-old Akshay Bhatia, then a senior in high school, received one last fall to the Safeway Open in Napa, California.

Bhatia is left-handed phenom from Wake Forest, North Carolina, who is skipping college to play for money. He officially turned pro this week on the strength of a sponsor exemption into the Sanderson Farms Open that starts Thursday in Jackson, Mississippi.

Given Bailey’s recent performances on a Texas-based minor league tour, and a sterling overall career at Baylor, there seems to be no reason he shouldn’t get the same consideration as Bhatia.

Coming up: Bob West’s Chip Shots