James Nitties is among the players to find the going tough in 2012.
As I write this America is celebrating Independence Day, that’s right it’s the 4th of July & most of the country is out enjoying a BBQ & fireworks display.
Among them are 40 of Australia’s best professional golfers, that’s how many of our countrymen & women ply their trade on the Top 4 tours over here (PGA, LPGA, Champions & Web.Com). The number goes well above 100 if you add all those chasing the dream through the various Mini Tours.
No they’re not celebrating being American, they’re celebrating the life they lead in the United States. It’s the elite playing field of a Tour Professional & where the cream of our crop usually ends up, with the exception of a handful who venture to Europe.
All these very talented men & women represent you & I, the remaining 99.99% of people who play golf in Australia (about 1 million). The vast majority of us who never had the ability or determination to make it as a professional, little less on the game’s biggest stages.
However what doesn’t get celebrated is how hard these people work nor the sacrifices they make to realise their goals. All you see is what’s reported in the media - the winners, the massive prize purses & what appears to be a dream existence.
Having spent a portion of the last two years living in America covering our players on the PGA Tour, I’ll admit life as an elite PGA Tour pro looks pretty grand.
Private planes, 5-star Hotels, celebrity friends & every possible request met at each tour stop is easy to get used to but of the 40 players I mentioned on the Top 4 tours only a quarter of those actually live that life.
The rest constantly battle the day-to-day grind of trying to make it. Some have experienced & then lost it, others are still trying to taste it but they’re all bonded by a common goal, job security.
Here’s a few examples of what their lives are like.
A PGA Tour player fighting to keep their card…
For those somewhere between 100-175 on the money list, (Pampling, O’Hern, Appleby, Jones, Green, Goggin & Bowditch) life on the bubble, is a week-to-week struggle where there is next to no spotlight yet their stories are some of the best to tell.
These players get the earliest or latest tee times, have next to no fans follow them & grind to make the cut most weeks. Trust me it is gut wrenching just watching them. Guys who usually hole putts with their eyes closed from Monday through Thursday, stand almost frozen stiff over 3 footers late on a Friday afternoon, when every shot counts.
When they do get in contention, it’s either one bad hole or even one shot which they look back on as the difference to contending and drifting back into the pack.
Sure you might argue, that it’d be great to have a poor year and earn $500,000 but once you lose that PGA Tour card, its back to a tour where making $150,000 is a great year, the only problem being is it costs $200,000 in expenses to earn it. You don’t have to Einstein to work out you’d go broke pretty quickly living like that.
The Secondary Tour player on the precipice….
This is a story all too familiar to the likes of Scott Gardiner and Alistair Presnall who have finished either 26th/27th or 28th in the past 5 years.
Imagine a year where you work your backside off, performed better than most and for the vast majority of the year look set for that big promotion only to be told you came so close, but instead will have to tough it out for at least another season, wondering if your time will ever come, while the person who may have only made a few hundred bucks more gets promoted to the promised land.
Well that’s happened to Gardiner three times and Presnell twice and again they find themselves on the precipice this year. Guys we have our fingers crossed.
The Secondary Tour player who’ve made less than $20,000….
These players would trade places with the guys above in a heartbeat. Right now I’m talking about Andre Stolz, James Nitties & Michael Sim.
These guys are household names back in Australia & no strangers to the good times but for one reason or another find themselves in a position where they never thought they’d be, full of self doubt.
They’ve all been PGA Tour players. Stolz is a past winner while Sim was a world top 50 player just over 2 years ago but here they are half the year gone & barely a brass razoo between them.
The thousands of hours of practice are matched but the hundreds of hours of driving between tour stops. There are no courtesy cars or Grand Hyatts, it’s simply a case of find that certain something soon or the dream could be over.
Despite spending half the year on the road staying in towns you or I will never know exist, most of the time without loved ones or family either.
But rest assured not one of the aforementioned players will quit in their pursuit of greatness, hoping that one-day they realise their dreams.
These are our ambassadors of Australian golf.
Luke Elvy hosts golf for Network TEN, is currently covering the PGA Tour in the US and is a freelance columnist for GolfAustralia.org.au His views do not necessarily represent those of Golf Australia. You can follow him on Twitter: @elvisgolf.