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Golf's Traveling Circus

The Hooters Tour draws a crowd of pro golf wannabes looking for their big break far from the crowds of the PGA Tour
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

(continued from page 1)

Playing a scramble format, Team Mackay managed to shoot a 12-under 60, a score that put us in the middle of the pro-am pack and made my team of once-in-a-while golfers pretty proud of themselves. After the round, the players and locals mingled around the open bar, joking and trading stories from their rounds. As the sun was setting and the pro-am participants began slowly filing out of the clubhouse, several players were still on the driving range, making last minute adjustments before the start of the working week.

Following the pro-am the rest of the week on The Hooters Tour settles into a fairly predictable pattern: Players will tee it up for their first rounds either in the morning or afternoon waves on Thursday and then play in the opposite wave on Friday. After the first two rounds are completed there is a cut made and the top 60 scores and ties move on to play the weekend and make money. Despite starting out as a week filled with promise, the 2009 Capitol Chevrolet Classic became a tournament I would rather forget. I managed to put up my worst round of the year, a six-over 78 in the opening round to all but take myself out of the tournament. I came back with a slightly more respectable (but no less frustrating) 73 in the second round and missed the cut by a wide margin. As had been the story for much of the year, I simply threw away too many shots, squandered too many chances, and failed to execute when I needed to the most.

It was a fitting end to a tough year on the mini tours. Due to several different factors I ended up playing only a small amount of the season: 10 events and a handful of Monday qualifiers for the Nationwide Tour. This was down from a career-high of 19 events and six Monday qualifiers I played in 2007, which resulted in earnings of a shade over $20,000. If that sounds like a tough way to make a living, it is.

Each event on The Hooters Tour costs $1,100 to enter. This is where the majority of the tournament purse comes from. If it comes across as glorified gambling, that's basically what it amounts to at times. Of the $200,000 tournament purse, $33,000 goes to the winner. Playing well can mean earning a very good living. In the 2009 season two players earned over $100,000 and the leading money winner, Ted Potter of Silver Springs, Florida, pushed the $200,000 mark. That being said, it can be tough to make ends meet as it costs anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to travel and play a year on the mini tours. That roughly equates to finishing in the top 50 at the end of the year, and with well over 200 players competing regularly on the Hooters Tour each season it becomes very competitive to make it into the money each week.

A weekend away from work is what most people in the professional world look forward to come Friday-"TGIF." Not golfers. No, a weekend off is the golfing equivalent of getting fired. It doesn't' matter if you miss the cut by one or one hundred, you still don't get paid. So you simply try to forget about it and move on.

Moving on from Woodcreek Farms meant traveling to Chattanooga on Sunday afternoon to play in the Nationwide Tour's Monday qualifier at Bear Trace Golf Course. Despite shooting a two-under 70 there I was never really in contention to make it through the qualifier, which played off at 67. Those events can be an even tougher experience than a regular mini tour event. It's a case of "Go low or go home" and very rarely does a score of 68 or more get close to qualifying for a Nationwide Tour event. So you move on, dump your clubs back in the trunk of your car, stuff your clothes in your suitcase and get out of dodge. There's always next week.

The next event on most players schedule is the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, or Q School as it is so adorably nicknamed. It's that fun-filled event where (if you're lucky enough to advance through all three stages) you end up playing 252 holes through three separate tournaments over two months to play your way into the "big dance" where Tiger is prom king and Phil the most popular boy in the class.

Playing in this pressure-packed saga costs each individual the princely sum of $4,500, that's not including travel costs to each separate stage of the tournament. While the cost of entering might be on the steep side, the rewards for getting through to the final stage are almost immeasurable for a mini tour player. A chance to qualify for the PGA Tour is the grand prize, while automatic Nationwide Tour status (depending on placing at final stage) becomes a huge incentive to go back to school. If there is such a thing, it's the easiest way to avoid the grind of the mini tour circuit for the next season.

That being said, the hefty entry fee is the main reason I did not sign up to go back to school for the third time this year. It was a tough decision, but in my circumstance, paying the rent during the winter took precedence over career ambitions. At any rate, Q School will still be there for the taking next year.

For my compatriots it will be the last roll of the dice in 2009, or else it's back to Monday qualifying, the Hooters Tour, or one of a half-dozen other tours scattered around the country. Back to the traveling circus that is mini tour golf where you never know if you're going to make $33,000 that week, or $3,000, or nothing. Or it means finding a "real" job and making a steady income. A job where you don't get to drive 31,250 miles in a calendar year, eat at Chili's, stay at the Motel 6 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and put four new tires on your beat-up Mitsubishi Mirage every six months. In short: a job where you don't get to sweat out four-foot par putts for a living. Trade it in for a steady paycheck? Not on your life.

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