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October 23. 2012 11:14PM

Class is in session for NH Q-School entrants


Peter Williamson started with a 69 on Day 1 of Q-School Tuesday. 
After practicing for more than a month in one of golf’s innermost sanctums, Peter Williamson has embarked on his quest to earn PGA Tour playing privileges.

A 22-year-old Hanover native who starred at Dartmouth College, Williamson shot 1-under-par 69 Tuesday in the first round of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, better known as Q-School. Williamson’s 72-hole, first-stage qualifier at Pensacola, Fla., ends Friday.

Coming off a summer in which he won the North & South Amateur in Pinehurst, N.C., and the Southern Amateur in Little Rock, Ark., Williamson is one of three Q-School entrants from New Hampshire. The three-stage marathon began with six first-stage tournaments last week and continues with eight more this week. Competitors are seeking to advance to one of six second-stage qualifiers in mid-November and ultimately to the 90-hole final stage at La Quinta, Calif., starting Nov. 28. The low 25 scorers and ties there earn 2013 PGA Tour cards, with the remainder of the field earning either fully exempt or conditional status on the developmental Web.com Tour.

Derry pro Rich Berberian Jr., the New Hampshire PGA Chapter champion and a Q-School competitor the last two years, is entered in a first-stage qualifier at Port St. Lucie, Fla., that runs today through Saturday. And Dover pro Jesse Smith, a Canadian Tour player, failed to advance in a first-stage qualifier at Lakeland, Fla., last week.

Meanwhile Kirk Hanefeld, the longtime club pro from Somersworth who played the better part of six seasons on the Champions Tour before taking a breather this year, will seek a return to the 50-and-older circuit. Hanefeld is entered in a regional qualifier that starts next Tuesday outside Houston.

A three-time Ivy League champion, Williamson moved to Jupiter, Fla., in mid-September and has been honing his game at The Medalist Golf Club, an exclusive enclave in nearby Hobe Sound that counts several PGA Tour players — including Tiger Woods — among its members. Williamson joined Medalist as a junior member thanks in part to Champions Tour player Olin Browne, a Medalist member Williamson met through his Dartmouth coach, Rich Parker.

Since arriving in Florida, Williamson has been practicing a lower, more penetrating shot trajectory to combat the sea breezes he expected to encounter at Pensacola Country Club, which plays along the coastline. He’s also been acclimating to Florida’s prevalent Bermuda grass.

“I’ve done a lot of nine-hole stints since I’ve been down here, just to see if I can take what I’ve been working on on the range to the course,” Williamson said last week. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to the range, and if it does I’ll keep playing.”

Although he hasn’t met Woods yet, Williamson has played with Browne, the 2011 U.S. Senior Open champion, and PGA Tour players Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley at Medalist. Exempt into the PGA Tour’s 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Orlando’s Bay Hill Club by virtue of his Southern Amateur victory — an invitation contingent on its recipient competing as an amateur — Williamson has entered Q-School as an amateur, thereby preserving his option to make his tour debut at Bay Hill should he fail to earn playing status on the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour. Should he earn playing privileges on either tour, however, Williamson would almost certainly turn pro before year’s end, he has said.

Berberian, a 25-year-old assistant pro at Hoodkroft Country Club, returns to the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club for the third consecutive year. Although he has yet to advance past first stage — he missed by one stroke in 2010 — he has gained plenty of local knowledge.

“After my two practice rounds (this week), I’ll have played more than 20 times at that course, and that kind of experience always helps,” Berberian said.

Smith, a 33-year-old former Colgate University golfer who played eight events on the Canadian Tour this year, shot 74-73-67-67 in a first-stage qualifier at Grasslands Golf & Country Club that ended last Friday. Despite two strong closing rounds, he finished tied for 34th place while the top 19 finishers advanced.

Hanefeld, 56, played only two events on the Champions Tour this year after becoming the director of instruction at Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass., last February. Still, after taking the job, he said he wouldn’t rule out a return to Q-School this fall.

“Up until about the middle of July this year, I basically couldn’t play because of some back issues, but hopefully those are resolved,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing next year, but going to tour school certainly gives me the potential for another option.”

Hanefeld’s 72-hole regional qualifier will be staged at Woodforest Golf Club at Fish Creek in Montgomery, Texas. Should he advance, the final stage is scheduled for Nov. 13-16 in Coral Springs, Fla. The top five finishers there earn fully exempt Champions Tour status for 2013, with the next seven earning conditional status.

Although fully exempt in only two of his six Champions Tour seasons, Hanefeld has earned $736,765 in 63 career starts, notching three top-10 finishes.

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Mike Cullity may be reached at mcullity@unionleader.com.

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