- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LA QUINTA, Calif. -- It doesn't take a major championship trophy to negotiate your way through PGA Tour Q-school, but it sure helps.
A Ryder Cup hero walking in your gallery, his caddie on loan to you for the week, isn't too bad, either.
Mark Brooks, the 1996 PGA Championship winner, is one of the most well-known players who teed it up Wednesday in the first round of Q-school at PGA West, and he lived up to the billing with a 6-under 66 at the Stadium Course that has him a stroke out of the lead.
Brooks, however, might not have been the biggest name on the course. That belonged to Anthony Kim, the Ryder Cup star who lent his caddie to childhood friend Seung-Su Han and walked with Han on the back nine as Han shot a roller-coaster 1-over 73 on the Stadium Course.
The two provided microcosms of the contrasts going on at Q-school.
Brooks, the veteran who already has status as a past champion on the PGA Tour, free-wheeled through a pressure-free round using his 22-year-old daughter as caddie.
Han, the rookie seeking to join the PGA Tour for the first time, felt nerves even as he employed every measure he could fathom, including borrowing Eric Larson, Kim's caddie, to help negotiate the pressure-packed tournament.
"You have a lot of guys in a lot of different situations out here," Brooks said. "For me, I can play 17 or 18 tournaments next year with my category. For some guys, this is their only shot."
Somewhere in the middle is the group of players who were once full-time members of the tour but lost their card for one reason or another. Notah Begay III fits the bill.
Begay, a four-time tour winner, is seeking to regain his tour card after battling through a series of back injuries that almost forced him to give up the game 18 months ago.
He made it through the second stage of Q-school and shot an even-keel 72 in the finals Wednesday on the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course. His score didn't exactly light up the leaderboard, but considering that he could barely walk in spring of 2007, it's a step in the right direction.
"It's a miracle," Begay said. "In May of last year, if I was lying on my back, I couldn't lift my leg a half inch without serious levels of pain. I thought I was destined for surgery, but now, a year and a half later, I'm one step away from playing against the best in the world again."
Brooks once was one of the best in the world. He won seven times from 1988 through 1996, but hasn't won since the 1996 PGA Championship, though he lost a playoff to Retief Goosen at the 2001 U.S. Open.
He hasn't been to Q-school since 1987, and it wasn't a must for him to play this year with his status, but he said he wanted to move up the priority list for getting into tournaments.
"Playing out of tour school actually buys you about eight or 10 tournaments," Brooks said. "Playing out of the category I'm in isn't where you want to play out of. You're playing in tournaments when there's room. You can't get three or four in a row."
Han would like to get just one. He never has played in a PGA Tour event. He considered turning pro last year after he made it through the first two stages of Q-school as an amateur, but finished tied for 149th in the finals and returned to UNLV.
This year, he arranged to borrow Larson to help negotiate the final stage. It wasn't until Kim showed up for the back nine that Han calmed down, however. He made four bogeys in eight holes and was 3-over through 10 holes, but finished with two birdies in his last eight.
"I felt comfortable when he showed up on 10," Han said. "I wasn't comfortable over the ball and stuff, but it got better and better. It was really cool to see him come out. He's got better things to do."
Kim, who went to high school in La Quinta and still has a home there, said he remembered the support he received when he went through Q-school and wanted to reciprocate.
"I know that helped very much because I was a younger player just getting started," Kim said. "I'd like to see him do well."
Even if that means losing his caddie.
"Somebody was playing with him and said, 'Do you remember when Peter Jacobsen let Tiger borrow Fluff?'" Kim said. "I said if he can play that good, he can take Eric. Go ahead."
For his part, Larson said he isn't going anywhere.
"I'm just helping out," Larson said. "Him and Anthony are friends, and we talked about it last June, me caddying for him if he made the finals, and sure enough he did. I said if I'm available and Anthony said OK, go ahead and do it."
Han is guaranteed at least conditional status on the Nationwide Tour, so he won't be on the mini-tours next year. That's the situation Begay found himself in earlier this year.
His confidence drained by years of back-pain-induced poor play, Begay sought to rebuild his game and his confidence by playing in a couple of Adams Winter Series tournaments. He won one of them in October and pocketed only $4,255, but said the experience was well worth it.
"It made me think about what happened to put me back in that position," Begay said. "But it also made me see the game through a different lens. Instead of taking it as a slap in the face, I used it as an opportunity to relearn the game."
Those lessons, and the jolt to his confidence, came in handy in the final round of the second stage of Q-school. Begay was 6 shots outside of the cut line when the round began but shot a 65 -- a round he called his best in more than eight years.
"I got the biggest boost from that," he said. "I knew something had to happen. I was fighting a lot of fears, demons and anxiety, but I tried to have hope and I broke through some barriers."
Demons and anxiety are common opponents at Q-school, a far cry from the junior golf days when Han and Kim used to go head-to-head, and Han often would come out on top.
"He used to beat me all the time," Kim said.
"I can still beat him," Han said. "Well, maybe not today."
But in Q-school, today doesn't matter. It's all about where you are come Monday, and nobody knows that better than a veteran.
"There's a long way to go," Brooks said.
Peter Yoon is a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage.
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