O'Brien, who has coached Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor, made a similar reassessment. "Kelly was a good player," O'Brien said, "but we sat down at the beginning of his senior year and had a talk. What did he want to do? What did he want to accomplish? That summer he tied for sixth at the Porter Cup, won the Texas Amateur, then the U.S. Amateur, and he was on his way. He showed he was ready for bigger things."
But first Kraft has to earn his PGA Tour card. He can do that by winning a Tour event; by winning enough official money to finish 125th or better on the money list; or by finishing in the top 25, come autumn, at the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. Seven is the maximum number of sponsors' invites, so Kraft has written or called every tournament director this side of Kapalua. (He has already achieved the Texas Trifecta, landing spots in next month's HP Byron Nelson Championship and the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.) If it comes down to Q school, Kraft is exempt into the second stage because he made the cut at the Masters.
Cantlay and the other amateur prodigies will be following Kraft's progress closely because of recent changes that will eliminate Q school as a direct path to the PGA Tour, starting next year. The new Q school will still award cards to the Nationwide tour, but players will have to spend at least one year in the minors before moving up. That leaves the sponsor-exemption route—or winning one of the Open championships—as the only bypasses available to the best young pros.
Kraft is not exactly a Tour rookie; he's more of a young pro looking for opportunities. "I have a lot to learn, for sure," Kraft said. "But it's still golf. It's the same courses and the same players. I'm simply playing for money now. That's the only difference."
A thousand once promising pros would argue that point, but Kraft wasn't looking for an argument. Buoyant and eager, he just wanted to know his Thursday tee time.