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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
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
David Caruso, Jan/Feb 2007

(continued from page 3)

And so began Grace's sponsorship of Cooper.

"I get pretty emotional when I think of what Mark has done for me," says Cooper, who's still chasing the dream, still going to the PGA Tour Q despite a mediocre season. "I was at the end of my line. I needed one more chance."

Having played at the highest levels, Todd Demsey knows how he, and so many others, can hold on to that dream and look for one more, two more, three more chances to succeed. "It's such a fine line between the guys out on this tour, the guys on the Nationwide and the guys on the PGA Tour," says Demsey. "You've got Tiger and Phil and a couple of dozen others with a big talent difference, but the rest of the guys up there aren't that much different from the guys here. It's a very fine line and it's almost all mental. I don't need to make changes. I just have to trust what I have and believe you can do great things. Just getting it done when it really matters."

A guy like Casey Wittenberg is pretty sure he can get it done, he just hasn't done it yet. Wittenberg, just 22, played only one year of college golf before turning pro after the 2004 U.S. Open. A runner-up finish in the 2003 U.S. Amateur had earned him an invitation to the Masters, where he finished 13th the following year. In 2005, he played again in both the Masters and U.S. Open. He got a handful of sponsor exemptions to PGA Tour events, but he couldn't get through the difficult PGA Tour qualifying process and found himself playing on the Hooters Tour in 2006.

"You know, you can be playing on the Hooters Tour one week and a month later be playing on the PGA Tour," says Wittenberg. "I've been the No. 1 junior player, the No. 1 amateur player. I turned pro at 19 and I'm 22 now and definitely more mature. There's no reason for me not to be successful. There are a lot of guys who have their PGA Tour cards that if you put them in the first stage of Tour school, many wouldn't make it through all three stages. That's just how tough it is, how many good players there are."

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.

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