Q-School

La Quinta, CA- This past week I covered three days of a total of six rounds of PGA's final qualifying tournament. Q-School is golf's test for those who want to play on the PGA Tour. Its three tournaments with the final tournament a six round event played on two courses. The top 30 get their PGA Tour card.

Even if you have a PGA Tour card, it doesn't mean you can play on the Tour the following season. Players look for exemptions. Like winning a major tournament, making the top 150 on the season's money list or even the top 50 career money list. The better you play, the more likely you can win exemptions for next year or the next five years. A few have lifetime exemptions.

Obtaining a Tour card gives you access to the richest prize pools in golf. The money is much less on the Nationwide Tour or the Hooter's Tour. Even if you obtain a PGA Tour card through Q-School, it doesn't mean you can play any tournament on the PGA Tour. There is a pecking order. And a rookie that just finished 30th at Q-school might not play in many after each tournament fills up with top PGA Tour pros.

Shooting Q-School is different that other golf tournaments. First there are no huge galleries following the players or live leaderboards to follow the action on the course. So a photographer taking photos doesn't quite get lost in the shuffle by players and caddies. That means you have to be very discrete in taking photos. Every little sound can be heard.

Every night before the round, a pairing sheet is made up and posted on the internet. That's where you get the player's tee times and where they will be playing and with what group. It is not easy covering the tournament as its played on two separate courses and players start on two different holes, the first tee and the tenth tee. If you have to make photos of a bunch of players, careful planning the night before is required. Be prepared to walk a lot of miles on the course.

Players don't wear numbers like in other sports, so identification becomes a little trickier. Usually the players names are on their golf bags, but some of the newer pros don't have all the sponsors with their fancy golf bags with the player's name on them. The PGA Tour helped out with identification of golfers by giving three different bib colors to the caddies. Red, white and blue. The first golfer's caddy teeing off in the three person group wore a red bib, second white and third blue. That only applies to the first hole as golfer's tee off on subsequent holes tee off in order of what they did in the previous hole. But at least you could look at the pairing sheet and know what color bib the golfer's caddy was wearing.

What make a good golf shot? Most golf photos have certain traits. First is the tee shot, a tight photo of the golfer swinging, cropped tight so you can see the golfer's face. The second type is the good action shot of a golfer hitting from some kind of hazard, sand, rough. The third kind is the scenic shot showing the golfer in a picturesque setting of the course maybe with huge gallery at a major tournament. And the last kind is the reaction shot of a missed or made shot. Think Tiger Woods with his fist pumped or Phil Mickelson bent over after missing a putt to win a championship. I know it is simplistic to categorize golf photography into four groups, but that's what I usually see in the magazines and newspapers. If you make all four kinds of photos, you are doing good that day.

Shooting a golf tournament involves doing your homework the night before, checking pairing sheets and stories on the net to get a sense of story line of what players to cover. Getting to the course early just because golf starts early. Hopefully you'll know the course a little and know what holes are photogenic and which tees give you clean backgrounds and good light. Packing light so you can race ahead of golfers so you can set-up a great angle when they hit the ball in the sand trap or behind a tree.

As your shooting you have to take notes on what hole you are on and what golfer you are shooting. Some photographers use paper and pen, others make voice recordings on their camera. You can use your camera to take photos of tee markers and players' bags.

Then a quick lunch at the media center, they give accredited media free food at the PGA Tour, something they don't do at other sports. Maybe a edit and send a few photos if you are working for a wire service with deadlines every minute somewhere in the world.

Check the leaderboard to see if some golfer hasn't made some miracle charge out of nowhere, and then if he has, track him down before he finishes his round and get some decent photos. Then back out for some more photos, edit, caption and send again. Its a long day.

A few musts: put you cell phone of vibrate, don't ever shoot on a back-swing of a golfer, don't shoot in the golfer's line of sight, stop moving when a player is over his ball ready to swing. Break any one of those rules and you will hear from someone.