In the fall of 1991, I finally made it through PGA TOUR School. For those who don’t know, it’s a six round tournament. Thousands of people enter across the country and only 35 make it through. That year, I finished third. I could write a horror story on what I have witnessed and experienced at TOUR School over the years. The week of TOUR School still gives me nightmares to this day.
In the exhilarating moments as I walked out of the scoring tent, my friend, mentor and fellow competitor Tommy Moore immediately approached me and said, “go speak with the Titleist reps right now and get your hat, ball and shoe deal secured.” Prior to TOUR School I had signed a contract with IMG (International Management Group, Arnold Palmer & Greg Norman’s reps) but that excluded any relationships I had previously established which included Titleist. The Titleist reps were easy to spot in a crowd; they all wore white sport coats with a company patch on them. Joe Turnesa, the head of Player Relations for Titleist’s PGA TOUR program, was easy to find, real tall guy surrounded by other reps and players. I wait my turn, nervous with excitement as I don’t know what I’m in for. My voice cracks as I introduce myself and tell Mr. Turnesa how much it would mean to be on the Titleist team. He says “Congratulations, great playing. I spoke with Tommy Moore and if he vouches for you that’s all I need to hear. Welcome to the PGA TOUR. We will get you a contract to sign ASAP.” The contract was this, $25,000 per year to play the ball, shoe and glove. It also stated that there would be additional bonus money based on TV time. And that’s where my story begins. We venture off to the west coast, Bob Hope Classic is the first tournament. I have a really good start there, catch a couple of shots on TV with me but not a good angle of the hat. Out of nowhere the following week I’m handed a check for $400 on the range by Turnesa. “I ask what is this for?” He says “You were on TV last week for one shot and this is the bonus pool money.” I call my dad and tell him the good news so he says he will start taping every event. The west coast run continues and I might have picked up a couple more checks. Nothing significant, I might have just been in the right group at the right time. As to be expected with being a Rookie, learning the courses, the travel program, the routines and caddies were all playing out as they should. Next up was the Florida swing. Doral, the Blue Monster. The history of the blue monster was well documented over the years on TV. And when I say blue monster, I’m referring to the 18th hole. A 473 yard par 4 with bunkers and palm trees on the right and LOTS of water on the left side of the fairway and in front of the green. It was an intimidating hole. It’s Friday and I have Eric Egloff on the bag, also known as Big E. Eric was a good friend and an aspiring professional golfer. We met and played together on the Canadian Tour years earlier. He was tall and Viking strong. Wide shoulders and a great sense of humor. Could hit a golf ball a country mile. He could have been a tight end in the NFL or a power forward in the NBA. We get to the 18th tee and he and I realize I need to make par to make the cut. There were several other reasons why it was a big hole for me. If I made the cut, it would position me to get into the field for Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s tournament several weeks later. And I would also maintain my TOUR School priority ranking position for the remainder of the spring schedule, meaning I would get in all the tournaments through May with the exception of The Players and Augusta. I hit my drive down the right side and I land in an area that had been matted down by spectators. We are waiting on the other players to hit, it’s Friday and it’s late in the afternoon. The crowd is in tight and here come the CBS camera guys. Eric immediately takes control and asks everyone to move back away from the ball and to please stand still. We start our normal conversation of yardage, wind direction and club selection. Eric is smiling because he thinks he is on TV. I look right into the camera and can see the red light is on. I back off the bag and tug my hat a few times just by coincidence. I didn’t know it at the time but Gary McCord was absolutely having a field day describing the shot on TV. Playing up to the TV audience, he informed them that I needed to make par on this hole to make the cut. We decide on a 4 iron. E, yells out again “please stand still”, then smiles at the camera. I was gassing and he was clowning for the camera. Getting ready to hit my shot and the wind blows hard and it wasn’t coming from Eric, it was coming from the Atlantic Ocean. I panic and back off. The camera guy doesn’t move, the crowd can feel my anxiety and McCord is having the time of his life describing how the blue monster has me in a full choke hold. I freeze for about 20 seconds, debating on whether to switch to the 3 iron. Over the green is a bunker and I can still make 4 from there. Short is water and that ain’t good. Pin is back left, my yardage was 210 into the wind. The TV broadcast pulls the plug on me and goes to the 17th hole to pick up the action of another player. Back on the 18th, I take another 30 second time out after wind gust number two. Then we finally decide on going with the 3 iron. CBS telecast comes back to the 18th hole, McCord picks up the action again. Says something along the lines of “he may never hit this ball.” I was in full vapor lock. I launched the 3 iron and it cuts through the wind to about 18 feet past the hole. Huge sigh of relief the ball is on the green. As we walk to the green, Eric and I both are milking the camera one more time. I managed to two putt, secure my par and make the cut for the weekend. Can’t recall my scores but it wasn’t anything special, finished 60th-70th and picked up a purse check for around $1,200-$1,800. Hey, life was good, I was a Rookie on the PGA TOUR.
The following week in Ft. Lauderdale, Joe Turnesa walks up on the range and starts off by saying “Good playing last week.” He then digs into his briefcase and pulls out a bonus pool check for $2,800. I didn’t quite understand the amount. I go ask one of the veteran pros “what’s up with these Titleist checks?” He tells me it’s about $400 per shot when you are on TV and each shot is about 30 seconds long. They have to get a clear look at the logo on your hat. I’m like, well then, I can work with that. I walk off the range to call my dad and tell him the good news. I said, “Dad, I just picked up a Titleist check for $2,800 for the CBS Doral TV coverage last week. Did you get a chance to look at the tape?” He says, “I watched it live and I watched the tape, you were only on for one shot, but you took like 5-10 minutes to hit that one shot. How much did you get again?” I said “$2,800.” He replies, “Let me give you some financial advice. Next time you see that red light lit up on those TV cameras, keep on choking and freezing up like you did on Friday because you’re making more money with that hat on your head than you are playing golf. Now go work on your game.” #fatherlylove #titleist #ministeroffun