As part of our celebrations for the 15th anniversary of Flagstick Golf Magazine I’ve spent a bit of time digging through past issues of late. This particular column from a 2005 issue caught my interest so I thought I would share it with our online readers who may have seen it when it came out in print. I think the embedded message still applies for those young golfers wondering about turning pro…
Fancy Pants and Shiny Sticks
To become a successful touring professional in the golf world, it takes a lot. A lot of money, a lot of luck, a lot of dedication, and primarily, a lot of talent. Like most sports, few golfers will even be able to make a career (one where they earn enough money to live on, at the least) of playing the game at a professional level. Unfortunately, unless you have done it, or have been close enough to the scenes to someone who has done it, you cannot know for sure what it really involves.
Before we get any further let me clearly state that I support anyone who has a dream of being a touring pro and pursues that goal with vigour. Without dreams and goals we have little to strive for. Just make sure that you have a plan to take you closer to the dream, one that is both realistic and effective. Unfortunately, the proliferation of many professional golf tours has disillusioned people about what their chance of success really is. Playing a minor tour in the middle of Nebraska while posting an 80.5 stroke average doesn’t make you “this close” to being on the PGA Tour. You better be winning handily on that tour to even have a chance with the big boys.
I think it is important that many developmental tours have popped up all over the world. Emerging professionals now have a place where they can hone their skills before they make their attempts at getting to the top tours in the world, the ones where they can actually make a living. There are a limited number of spots on the PGA, LPGA, European, Japanese, and Asian Tours and each player must earn their place. Many of the members of those tours started on mini-tours around the world, the ones with few sponsors and little fanfare where players are essentially playing for a purse of their pooled entry fees.
The goal, of course is to move on from these tours, if you don’t do so within a very short time you better have great sponsors or another source of income besides your golf. Life is expensive on the road and few mini-tours pay very far down their leader boards. The goal is to get experience, not get rich, because believe me, you won’t.
Every one of these lower level tours has its fair share of what the better players like to call “donors”. These are the players who pony up their entry fees with no hope of ever seeing their money come back to them in the form of a prize. It is that way for a simple reason – they don’t have the ability to compete. Donors exist because the structure of most mini-tours is that the players do not have to qualify by displaying any level of skill; they pay the entry fee and declare themselves a professional.
How prevalent is the “donor” situation on pay-for-play golf tours? One top player on a minor tour recently interpreted it for me in a few sentences. “On my tour you have 1/3 of the guys that practice hard and post good scores. They play as many events as possible and look at what they do as a job. The next third of the guys were good amateurs and will be again very soon. The other third hang around the range, chat with their friends and don’t actually practice. They spend most of their time trying to dress like Jesper Parnevik and they have all the latest equipment. They can barely break ninety on most days and you wonder if they ever actually played the game before they turned pro.”
They seem like harsh words but the reality is that being a touring golf pro has a certain ring of glamour to it so people jump in without knowing what is involved. Thankfully professional golf is the purest of sports, one where the rewards are almost always based on performance. In tournaments you have to play well to get paid and the same goes for acquiring any level of endorsements and sponsorships.
The skill level of golfers is only increasing and to play at a professional level you better have a tournament-tested ability and a strong desire to improve. The days of a “scratch” golfer competing as a pro are long gone. Even with that impressive index you will be giving up a lot of strokes to the better players each and every round. And pro golf is not a net competition.
Playing golf as a professional is a job, not a leisurely pursuit that you can just take up when you feel like it. There are miracle stories of players coming out of nowhere but they are the exception, not the rule.
It takes more than fancy pants and shiny sticks to be a pro golfer. If you think that is what it is all about, you might want to try another profession.
There is no shame in competing at golf as an amateur. Just because you can turn pro, doesn’t mean you should.