Pro Golf's Late Bloomers
For many talented golfers, even former PGA Tour winners, the Champions Tour gives them a shot at the big bucks
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007
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He wouldn't want to be too successful, though. "I'd like to play better but not a lot better," says Edwards. "I don't need the attention."
For John Harris, playing Champions Tour golf for the rest of his competitive life will be just fine, the fulfillment of a dream he harbored, then abandoned in his 20s. Lots of Minnesotans knew Harris when he was one of the top players on Herb Brooks's University of Minnesota hockey team that won the NCAA championship in 1974. He briefly played minor-league hockey before deciding to give professional golf a try. He had played golf at Minnesota as well, and the same year the Golden Gophers won the NCAA title in hockey, Harris was first-team All-American as a golfer. That pedigree didn't translate into a successful PGA Tour career.
"I just couldn't get my game to the level that it needed to be to play the PGA Tour," says Harris. "I lost confidence before I gained experience, and that wasn't good. You need both to be able to compete at that level."
So Harris gave up professional golf and started his own company, Harris-Homeyer Insurance, along with a college friend. He was successful in business and, after getting his amateur status back, became very successful as a player. He was the dominant player in Minnesota for two decades and won the U.S. Amateur in 1993. He was a four-time member of the U.S. Walker Cup team.
For winning the U.S. Amateur, Harris earned an invitation to the Masters. Not long after, for his success as a businessman, a community leader and an amateur golfer, Harris was invited to join the Augusta National Golf Club. It is an honor accorded to few men, and for nearly anyone a capper on a very impressive résumé.
But Harris felt there was something still lacking. "I knew my days competing at a high level as an amateur player were numbered," he says. "They were all too young and too good for me to consistently compete against."
He liked the adrenaline rush he got from competitive golf. There was a place he could still find it: the Champions Tour. Harris talked with Allen Doyle and Jay Siegel, former amateurs who made it big after turning pro, and got the encouragement he was looking for. He qualified for the tour in 2002, and the adrenaline started to flow, maybe too fast. Harris played well, but not quite well enough to keep his card. He kept going back to Q school and retrieving it. Finally, at the Commerce Bank Championship last summer, he broke through for a victory and a guaranteed spot on the tour for 2007.
"There is a thing as trying too hard and I was probably guilty of that," says Harris. "Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way. I managed to do that when I won. [In this sport] the highs are higher and the lows are lower. I like to test myself."
The test of golf wore out Tom Jenkins in the middle '80s. Jenkins had been a star at the University of Houston and qualified for the PGA Tour, winning a tournament in Philadelphia in 1975 by edging Johnny Miller. It was not a harbinger of great success. Jenkins struggled to make cuts and make a living over the next 10 years, and in 1986 he left the Tour to teach short-game technique with guru Dave Pelz. Eventually he started his own short-game school. Because of tendonitis in both elbows, he didn't play much competitive golf anymore, but being a short-game whiz would eventually pay off big for him.
"So much of your success in this game relates to your ability to score, to putt and chip and play sand shots and pitches," says Jenkins. "That was something I was doing for years before it came time to try to [qualify] for the Senior Tour. So even though I wasn't playing much competitive golf, I was very involved in that part of the game that can make you a success."
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