Golf for Dreamers
Professional golf's version of the minor leagues draws hundreds of players willing to put up their own money for the prize pool, and a faraway goal of making the PGA Tour
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Wittenberg went back to Tour school in the fall, brimming with confidence and knowing he has a place to play if he doesn't make it. "Do I want to be on the Hooters Tour? No," he says. "Am I glad it's here? Yes."
Marc Turnesa went back to Tour school last fall for the fifth time. He comes from a family with a great golf pedigree. His grandfather and seven uncles, based in the greater New York area, were an American golfing dynasty during the middle of the twentieth century. Until recently, Marc had not met with great success, but a sterling performance in last fall's PGA Tour National Qualifying Tournament earned him a Nationwide Tour card for 2007.
"I've never thought about anything else," says Turnesa. "I've always loved the game. It's the only thing I know." And besides, it beats working for a living.
"The good thing is that you're not working at a real job," says Turnesa. "Let's be honest about it. It's easy street."
Jeff Williams is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
CHASING THE DREAM
Jesse Gawlik wants to be a PGA Tour player so badly that he doesn't have time for a girlfriend. He wants it so badly that he's willing to put in seven- to nine-hour days of weight lifting, practice and play. He wants it so badly that he's willing to start at the bottom and work his way up through the grueling regimen of minitour golf and the PGA Tour qualifying process.
Cigar Aficionado is going to give Gawlik a chance. Starting this January, the magazine will be sponsoring the 24-year-old from suburban Rochester, New York, on the Gateway Tour's West Palm Beach Series in Florida. His first event of the nine-week tour will be at the Sandridge Country Club in Vero Beach.
"I have the heart. I know I can do this," says Gawlik, who now lives in West Palm Beach and plays out of the Bear Lakes Country Club. "I've seen improvement. In college I didn't win, but I finished in the top 10 of everything."
Gawlik attended the State University of New York at Cobleskill for two years and then transferred to Johnson and Wales in Miami for three and a half years, graduating with a degree in sports entertainment management in January 2006. He played golf all along and his Johnson and Wales squad was the No. 1 NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) team in 2005.
He faced his stiffest competition to date in the Florida Open at the end of September. He failed to make the cut, shooting 77-79, but he learned a lot. "It's pretty clear that I have to work on my putting based on that," says Gawlik. "And I've been working three hours a day on it since. My ball striking was insane, though. I played a practice round with two guys from Orlando who said I was really hitting it great. It was a big confidence booster to hear those guys say that."
To make a little money and to get playing privileges at a top club, Gawlik used to work weekends in the bag room of the Adios Golf Club in Coconut Creek. During the week he follows an intense regimen, waking up at 5 a.m. to work out with weights followed by breakfast. He arrives at the course around 7 o'clock and works on his short game and putting for three to four hours, eats lunch, and then plays at least 18 holes in the afternoon.
"Since the Florida Open I've seen a lot of progress in my putting," says Gawlik. "It's vastly improved. I can't wait to get started."