The tables turn for Vranesh

Michael Arkush
Yahoo! Sports

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Brian Vranesh started to break down early Monday afternoon. No, not his game, which is typically what happens to players of his caliber on this scary stage.

The dream of a lifetime is finally in their sights, and they find a way to blow it.

Not Vranesh. The breaking down came in his voice as he was being interviewed by The Golf Channel. After the unlikely path he took to secure his PGA Tour card for 2009, you can't blame the guy. You'd lose it, too.

A year ago this week, he was waiting tables at a restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz., after he had failed for about the sixth time to advance past the first stage of the tour's Qualifying Tournament. His buddy was the manager there, and, well, he needed the dough. The gig also gave Vranesh the chance to hit balls during his free time in the afternoon.

Did he ever get discouraged? Absolutely. Did he ever think about giving up? Absolutely not.

He believed in himself, and with help from instructor Sean Callahan, who works with Butch Harmon in Las Vegas, his faith was rewarded. Callahan showed Vranesh, 31, how to hit a consistent fade, and soon he was on his way.

So maybe the golfing world didn't take notice. Why would it? The wins came in something called the Gateway Tour. But they were wins nonetheless, and from where he was coming, they were big to him. He kept gaining more confidence, and before he knew it, he was back this past week at PGA West for the final stage of Q-school, where things didn't go well two years ago. Things don't go well for a lot of people here.

He hit a bunch of balls in the water, tying for 103rd. At least, Vranesh was able to earn conditional status on the Nationwide Tour, which got him into a dozen events. It was better than no status at all. Yet he made only $3,360 the whole year. That's how he ended up serving tables.

Erin Walton, Vranesh's fiancee, remembers those trying days well. She worked on his spirits, not his fades. On Monday, while family and friends celebrated the big moment, Walton took snapshots, and inventory.

"I watched him grind through many tournaments, and have many different jobs," she said. "I'm excited."

Also in attendance was Vranesh's father, Jeff, and their cousin, Los Angeles Angels pitcher Jon Garland. Garland has advised Vranesh on many occasions to keep things simple and to slow everything down. Once the tournament began last Wednesday, all he told him was "fairways and greens." Garland said his cousin has a strong mind and that he would never have quit unless "he couldn't walk down the fairway or grip a club."

On Monday, the biggest day of his golfing life, Vranesh didn't record a single bogey. With a 7-under 65, he stormed from two shots outside the magic number to make it with no room to spare, at 19-under 413.

"I was relaxed," he said afterward. "I probably would've been more nervous knowing I had to hold on. Putting the pedal to the medal I'm pretty good at. A couple of tournaments I've won this year, I've come from behind."

Life will change for Vranesh. Although he grew up in the Los Angeles area and attended Granada Hills High, John Elway's alma mater, Vranesh played most of his golf on public courses. His parents weren't into the game, so joining a country club was never going to happen. He wasn't even the best player on his high school team. That was Darren Angel, who played on the Nationwide Tour this year.

"I could play half the courses in L.A for like $12, and they gave you a hotdog," Vranesh recalled.

There's a chance he'll play Riviera Country Club when the Nissan Open is held there next February. He's never played Riviera.

When Vranesh was 25, he told his mother that he would begin looking for a different profession if he didn't make it by the time he was 30. At 29, he landed on the Nationwide Tour.

"That bought me five more years," he said.

Now he's looking to buy himself another 20. His friend, Pat Perez, who is on the PGA Tour, used to tell him that once he got out there, he could make good money.

The trick was getting out there, and he's done that. He knows he needs a little work on his chipping and putting.

Vranesh says the feeling of what he did in the desert probably won't sink in until he's standing on the first tee of his first PGA Tour event. He thinks that will come next month at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

"I want people to see that they can make it," Vranesh said.

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