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By Kevin Currie, Golf Editor - Archive - Email
Kraft makes leap to pro ranks
Kelly Kraft is making his first professional start this week at the Texas Open.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Being the U.S. Amateur champion has many perks, but if you turn professional you lose some of those special things.

Kelly Kraft upset top-ranked amateur Patrick Cantlay last year to win the U.S. Amateur to set up a great summer of golf in 2012.

Kraft got invitations to this year's Masters, U.S. Open and British Open with his victory at the Amateur. After making the cut at the Masters, he quietly turned pro.

The SMU grad played the first two rounds at Augusta National with last year's PGA Championship winner, Keegan Bradley, and 2011 Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel. Kraft drained an eight-foot par putt on No. 18 at the end of his second round to make the cut on the number.

After playing the third round by himself, Kraft played the final round with former British Open champion Stewart Cink.

Not too shabby. Four rounds at Augusta and you get to measure your game against three major winners.

Kraft gave up his U.S. and British Open exemptions by turning pro, but he can still go through the qualifiers to try to get into those championships.

The 23-year-old, who was the sixth-ranked amateur in the world prior to the Masters, is making his first professional start this week at the Texas Open.

Kraft opened his first round with four birdies and three bogeys for a round of 71.

"It was fun out there. It was pretty relaxing. There wasn't a whole lot of people out this morning watching, so it just felt like another round of golf," Kraft said in a Golf Channel interview after his round.

The fight now for Kraft is, can he earn enough money to secure his tour card for next year? Like anyone else, Kraft can accept up to seven sponsor exemptions the remainder of the year. He also could try to Monday qualify for tournaments.

"I'm going to play the Byron Nelson, the Colonial, Memorial and AT&T," Kraft said.

There have been seven players who have gone right from college to pro without having to go to PGA Tour Q School - Gary Hallberg, Scott Verplank, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Tiger Woods, Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley.

If he were to earn $668,166 in those seven events, he would get his tour card for the remainder of this year by equaling the total of D.J. Trahan, who finished 125th on the PGA Tour money list last year.

Kraft would need to finish in the top 10 in at least five of the seven sponsor-exempted events he competes in to earn enough money to get his card for the remainder of the year.

If he manages to do that, he'll be able to get an unlimited number of invitations the rest of the year, thus gaining more opportunities to finish inside the top 125 on this year's money list.

You have to wonder if Kraft's decision to turn pro had anything to do with the restructuring of Q School. Starting next year, Q School graduates will only get their membership for the Nationwide Tour, not the PGA Tour.

Kraft will obviously have an uphill climb this year, and other college stars are watching his every move to see if they should try the same later this year, or next year before the Q School changes take effect.

Some amateur stars never pan out as pros, but Kraft is plenty determined and has plenty of game for this to work. It'll be fun watching how he does the next few months.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE TEXAS OPEN?

The Texas Open is the fifth-oldest event on the PGA Tour and has been won by legends such as Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Ben Crenshaw.

In recent years, we've seen names like Brendan Steele, Eric Axley and Robert Gamez win the title.

For the second straight year, the field is lacking some serious talent. Matt Kuchar is the only player ranked in the Top 20 in the world, and just one of three in the world Top 50, playing at the TPC San Antonio this week.

The tournament is in the down period for many big names who take time off after the Masters and before the Players Championship. The event has bounced around the schedule over the years.

The event had a long run being played in September, then moved to October, then May and this is the second straight year in April.

A steady spot on the schedule is really the only thing this event needs, because the course is plenty difficult. Let's hope the tour does this tournament right and the top players start to come back.

MINI-TIDBITS

* Favorite tweet of the week - "Love love my fat guy in a little coat." That came from Carl Pettersson's wife, DeAnna, after he won the Heritage on Sunday.

* Michelle Wie has completed her school work at Stanford, and seems to have lost her golf game. In 13 rounds this year, she has broken par just once. She has four rounds of 77 or worse.


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