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Golf: Brand close to qualificaton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ask Christian Brand what he has to do this week to earn unconditional status on the Tour and he'll tell you: "If you finish up near the top you don't have to worry about it."

Such is Brand's approach to this week's final stage of the Qualifying School in La Quinta, Calif., where he'll play 108 holes of golf in six days on two courses beginning Thursday.

Among the players against whom he'll be competing are California's Michael Kim, the 2013 Haskins Award winner who made the cut at this year's U.S. Open; Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion whose instructor is Brad Rose - who also teaches 2011 Greenbrier Classic champion Scott Stallings; and Justin Thomas, who beat out Jordan Spieth as the 2012 Haskins Award winner.

Brand already has secured conditional status on the Tour one level below the PGA Tour, which, he explained, means very little if he finishes last.

"The cool thing about it is there's a purse and you're playing for money again," he said. "It's not just like if you finish in the top 20 you move on. The higher you finish, the more status and everything you get. You're constantly trying to climb the leaderboard."

The former Capital High School and Marshall University star has had a whirlwind four months, surviving pre-qualifying in Nebraska in August, the first stage in Georgia in October and the second stage last month in Florida.

Most impressive has been his performance. He needed to finish among the top 30 in the first stage and tied for sixth, before tying for eighth in stage two where he needed to be in the top 19.

"I've really taken my game to a new height," Brand said. "My bad rounds I can still get around and they don't kill me. Early in my pro career I might've shot a 74-75-76 and that just kind of kills you."

He went into the fourth and final round of the second stage at 8-under par, realizing he needed to go 2-under on the final day to advance.

"I knew unless I really did something outrageous, I would qualify, but the competitor I am I'm still trying to shoot a good score," he said.

Brand has long been known as the player who can turn it on when needed. He came back from three strokes behind with three holes to play at the 2005 Class AAA State High School Tournament, winning medal honors on the second playoff hole.

He had seven consecutive birdies at the 2008 State Open Championship at Berry Hills Country Club - a course he knows well - toward a second-round 67.

He was Marshall's No. 1 player during his final three years in the program after finishing second as a freshman.

Brand won the 2011 State Amateur, earning a spot in the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.

Finally, it came full circle at the second stage of Q school when he bogeyed No. 15 "and at 8-under, (me and my caddy) knew we wouldn't get in.

"My caddy (friend and NGA Tour player Drew Carlson) looked at me and said, 'I think we can get to 11 under.'

"We had three holes left ... birdied first hole, birdied second hole, 20-foot birdie on No. 18, go off sign your card. I didn't say a word to him on 18. He was speechless. I still do that every now and then."

He played on the eGolf Professional Tour in 2012, making only two cuts in six events, earning a meager $2,257.50. This year, he made 10 cuts in 17 events and earned $19,555.83 during a season that included two top 10 finishes.

All that Brand has accomplished has come through no official country club memberships, although Berry Hills had become his second home.

"Members love me up there and it's kind of a blessing," Brand said. "I definitely wouldn't be where I am without them. They've done everything for me. Bosten, Scott and Patty (Miller) kind of introduced me to Barry (Berry Hills Professional Barry Evans). That's kind of the way we started a relationship."

While his friendship with members of Berry Hills is acknowledged, it doesn't take away Brand's lunch-pail personality.

"I definitely see myself as blue collar," he said. "I dig it out of the dirt every day. You ask anybody who's ever been around me. I'm up there every day going through the same thing."

With some exceptions.

Brand's recognizable gait with the flailing arms remains, but he no longer chews on a tee - a nervous habit he's happy to eliminate.

However, he still chats between shots about other sports and life events, preferring to take brief respites from the pressures of his round.

"In the second stage I had a couple of guys from Fidelity Sports (agency) follow me and said they haven't seen the way I played golf in a long while with the way I'm really interested when I hit the shot and as soon as I'm done, I'm joking, talking to my caddy ... I kind of turn it on and off.

"In between shots I don't want to think about golf. I want to talk about sports with my caddy or how nice the weather is."

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at or 304-348-4837.



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