Closing in on giving up golf, Vranesh makes his dream become reality

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Q-school was made for guys like Brian Vranesh.

The list of 28 players who earned PGA Tour cards Monday at PGA West includes several former tour winners, a former Ryder Cup team member and a handful of rising stars.

Then there are guys like Vranesh, the self-professed "Joe the Plumber" of golf, he's a career mini-tour player with a homemade swing who grew up playing the local munis, went to junior college, then waited tables and delivered pizzas while playing in near anonymity and awaiting his breakthrough.

Many of the players in Q-school already have some status on the PGA Tour and are just looking to improve upon what they have to get into more tournaments.

For guys like Vranesh, though, it's a make-or-break week: Either get through in the top 25 or live with the disappointment of knowing you got that close to your dream and walked away without reaching it.

Every year at Q-school, there are players who seem to come from nowhere to earn their cards, and Vranesh, 31, was among them this year. He shot a final round of 7-under-par 65 on Monday on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West, then welled up with tears of joy as he learned he had earned his PGA Tour card right on the number of 19 under par.

"It's wild," said Vranesh, who has never played in a PGA Tour event. "It's hard work to get here, you know. I've had a lot of people help me."

A year ago, Vranesh was waiting tables at a restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz. It wasn't the first time. He has worked at a Subway, held various jobs at five or six golf courses, and worked for a catering company -- all while trying to support his golf habit.

He's as far from a natural as they come. At Granada Hills High School north of Los Angeles, he was the No. 2 player behind Darren Angel. He received no scholarship offers and attended College of the Canyons, a community college.

But after 10 years of grinding on mini-tours, he has made it to the pinnacle of his sport.

"I want people to see that they can make it," he said. "You get down when you go to the ATM and you want to withdraw 200 dollars and it says you only have 180. But if you just stick with it and keep practicing, it can happen."

Webb Simpson, 23, falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from Vranesh. The three-time junior All-American had a stellar amateur career and was among the top collegiate players while at Wake Forest. He seemed destined for success the minute he turned professional this past June.

Simpson didn't disappoint, earning his PGA Tour card on his first trip through Q-school with the aid of a final-round 67. But his sparkling amateur résumé and expectations of stardom didn't make him any less excited than Vranesh.

"Oh, I'm about as ecstatic as you can get," Simpson said. "I didn't want to put any limits on myself. The goal wasn't just to play well, it was to get through. But it's still pretty exciting when you reach this kind of a goal."

But for every can't-miss prospect that makes it, there are a dozen that don't. Matt Every, for example, missed his PGA Tour card by 2 shots and will head back to the Nationwide Tour for the second consecutive year.

Every, the 2006 Hogan Award winner as the top college player in the nation, is dumbfounded that he still hasn't reached the PGA Tour.

"You know, 25 guys are getting through and I'm not," he said. "It's 25 I'm better than, too."

Actually, the number of players that made it this year was 28 because it's the top 25 plus ties. Tour veteran Jay Williamson, who shot a final-round 70, is one of those who made it through on the number.

Williamson, 41, said players such as Simpson and Every have it easier than the veterans because the guys who have never been there before won't know what they're missing.

"I've always believed that the older you get, the more you realize how difficult it is because I know the difference between not having status and having status," he said. "I've battled, really my whole life, to kind of stay on tour."

This year, Williamson lost that battle after missing the cut in his last six tournaments when he needed to earn only $93,890 more to keep his card. So even though he is a 12-year PGA Tour veteran, he was nearly as emotional as Vranesh about getting another shot at the PGA Tour.

"I really can't put it in words," Williamson said. "I can't tell you how hard this is. It's not hard physically. It's the hardest thing mentally I've ever done in my life."

Still, it would be difficult to imagine there was a happier player at PGA West than Vranesh.

Six years ago, he told his mother that if he didn't make it by the time he turned 30, he would give up playing. At 29, he gained conditional status on the Nationwide Tour and bought a little time.

He worked hard on his game and received mental tips from his cousin Jon Garland, the Los Angeles Angels pitcher who won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

"I just told him that if you have the passion, you have to keep going for it," said Garland, who was in Vranesh's gallery Monday. "When you can taste it, there's no giving up. And you can see that he's got the passion for it every time he tees it up. That's why he finally made it."

For Vranesh, it's a life-altering moment that could mean no more waiting tables, no more caddying and no more driving the range-ball cart.

"This is going to be a big step," he said. "Hopefully, I can play well and change my life."

For guys like Vranesh, that's what Q-school can do.

Peter Yoon is a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage.