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  • Alistair Tait

The school of hard knocks

I’m not usually a sucker for tearjerker golf stories – there are far too many of those in this game for my liking – but I admit Michael Visacki breaking down in tears after realising a dream of playing in a PGA Tour event touched my heart strings.

Maybe he was in tears because he’d achieved a near impossible dream, never mind a boyhood one.

Visacki tees it up in this week’s Valspar Championship after holing a 20 foot in a playoff to earn his spot at Innisbrook Resort. The 57-second clip of a tearful Visacki telling his father “I made it” went viral. Once the tears had subsided, he said:

“Just a lot of people give up on their dreams, probably because they can’t afford it.”

He’s spot on with that last notion. So much is written about the top players making so much money, including obscene $40 million popularity contests, but things are hard at the bottom end of tour golf. Especially on circuits like the Korn Ferry Tour.

“Sometimes entry fees are $400 to $600 and if you don’t win or come second, I mean you barely break even and then it’s not like every week is a free entry fee that we’re just playing for a prize,” Visacki told Golf Digest. “Like if you miss two or three cuts and each cut, each tournament costs you $500 then in two, three weeks you’re down $1,500 just in entry fees, let alone practising, having to worry about paying rent, phone bill, electricity, gas, hopefully the car's not going to break down.”

Then there’s the nightmare of Monday qualifying. If that doesn’t give players the ultimate sense of Darwin’s survival of the fittest, then nothing will.

Visacki had to shoot 67 at Southern Hills Plantation Club just to get in a playoff. And that was over a course with a 76.7 to par rating and a slope of 145. That’s normal for Monday qualifying, where sometimes over a 100 players are competing for just four spots. The average qualifying score this year for PGA Tour events is 66.9. The average winning score is just over two shots lower at 64.8.

Go low or go home is what Monday qualifying should be called. No wonder so many players give up on their dreams.

It’s just as hard on the Korn Ferry Tour, a circuit full of former PGA Tour members and excellent college/amateur players looking to join the PGA Tour gravy train. Fellow Woburn Golf Club member Steve Lewton is going through the Monday qualifying route on this year’s Korn Ferry Tour. Steve, who has found success in Asia with victories in the Taiwan Masters (above) and Philippine Open, has returned decent scores this year and with mixed results. For example, he shot a 4-under-par 68 at RJT at Hampton Cove, one of two qualifying venues offering four spots apiece for this week’s Huntsville Championship, and missed by two shots. The qualifying mark over the Huntsville course was 64, 7-under. Three players shot that score and missed out in a playoff. Three-time NCAA All-American (Pepperdine University) Sahith Theegala took the number one spot with a 10-under 61!

Two weeks ago, Steve shot a 6-under 65 in qualifying for the MGM Resorts Championship and missed by one stroke. He qualified for the previous Korn Ferry tournament, the Emerald Coast Classic at Sandestin, and finished a respectable T31. However, he had to shoot a 6-under 66 just to get in the field. He would have missed if not for a hole in one at the par-3, 12th hole at Burnt Pine Golf Club in Sandestin, Florida to go with another eagle, three birdies and just one bogey.

Talk about tough school!

The world is full of local heroes – club champions, good county golfers, excellent amateur players – who thought they had what it took to play on the European Tour, PGA Tour or even the Korn Ferry and European Challenge Tours only to realise they didn’t have the right stuff even to make up the numbers in the school of hard knocks. No surprise so many quit.

No doubt most in golf wish Visacki well this week. I hope he makes the most of his dream start. I also hope good friend and fellow club mate Lewton finds traction on this year’s Korn Ferry Tour and realises his own dream of competing on the PGA Tour.

#JustSaying: “From outside, golf looks like a homogenous world of prosperous pros living a luxurious life. That’s one of the great sport’s lies.” Thomas Boswell

Photograph courtesy of the Asian Tour

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