PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Chasing the dream is a weekly ambition of literally thousands of golfers around the globe. The desire to play golf for a living calls so many, and yet only a few actually are chosen in the end.
When I woke up Thursday morning at just after midnight, still having issues with jet lag from a trip covering the Saudi International in Saudi Arabia, I immediately looked at my Twitter feed and saw that Nick Flanagan was leading the ISPS Handa Vic Open.
Oddly enough, I covered Flanagan when he won the 2003 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont in 37 holes over Casey Wittenberg. Back then, the story was that Flanagan and a bunch of his mates from Down Under traveled to the U.S. that summer, playing golf at the best courses and tournaments leading up to the U.S. Amateur.
“Pretty sick of living out of a suitcase, that's for sure,” Flanagan said in his first interview at the U.S. Amateur after a quarterfinal victory. “But I've been traveling with two other guys, and sometimes two or three other Australians. We hook up and get hotel rooms, and we get two beds for five guys. So, it's been pretty cramped.”
At the time, Flanagan was 19 years old and credited Tiger Woods with his reason for starting golf at 14.
Flanagan might not have been the best of the Aussies, but he was that week, beating the then-wunderkind Wittenberg on the first extra hole.
It was an inspiring amateur victory not only for Flanagan and golf, but it almost ended right there as the young Aussie wasn’t nearly as good as his victory that week in suburban Pittsburgh.
After Flanagan won three times on the Nationwide Tour in 2007, earning a promotion to the PGA Tour, he found that he lacked the firepower to compete on golf’s biggest stage. Since one season in the big leagues, he has played mostly on the Web.com Tour and overseas.
I remember seeing him at the Web.com Tour event in Richmond, Va., and I approached him to see how he was doing. Journalists develop a kinship, to some extent, with many players, even when they make it to the big tour but also at other levels of the game.
Which brings me to another player with ambitions to play golf for a living.
When I was at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., I had a meeting with Seth Waugh, the PGA of America’s new chief executive. I’ve known Waugh for a long time, dating to when his company, Deutsche Bank Americas, title-sponsored the Tour event near Boston.
After our meeting, Waugh mentioned that he was heading to Buenos Aires to caddie for his 24-year-old son, Clancy, who is trying to secure playing status on the Latinoamerica Tour.
It didn’t start out well for the younger Waugh as he was even at the turn on the first day, but a 1½-hour mid-round rain delay produced what the elder Waugh described as three sloppy bogeys and a 76 on the first day.
The real story starts on Day 2.
The Waughs were staying in downtown Buenos Aires, nearly an hour from the course. After a good breakfast and workout, they jumped into the car three hours before their 12:30 p.m. tee time and headed to the course.
About 45 minutes into the trip, everything came to a stop. The elder Waugh said truck drivers were getting out of their vehicles to stand and have a smoke, because they knew what Waugh would learn quickly: Traffic was going nowhere.
They inched along before finally getting to an exit, where it turns out that everyone else was getting off as the highway was being closed. They were barely moving, with no GPS to help find an alternative route to Canuelas Golf Club.
At this point, both Waughs started to panic. They were eight miles from the course and only 50 minutes until their 12:30 tee time. That was when the elder Waugh said to his son, “I’m your caddie, and I will get you to your tee time on time.”
Waugh pulled the Chevy off to the shoulder and onto the grass, where he saw a little dirt cow path across the median. So, Waugh drove the car over the median and onto the cow path, which was aptly named with its humps and bumps, water holes and even a cow or two. After about five miles, the path ended and Waugh had to look for an alternative route, which he found on the closed highway.
Because traffic had been diverted, Waugh drove over the grass median and onto the empty highway before he saw why the road had been closed: construction vehicles ahead. A resurfacing job was in progress. When Waugh arrived, asphalt was ready to be poured.
But Waugh was on a mission, so he weaved around the construction vehicles as puzzled workers watched. With 20 minutes to spare, they pulled into the golf course parking lot, where three staff members, including the superintendent, waited because Waugh had phoned ahead to explain their predicament.
The silver Chevy no longer showed much silver, with mostly brown and black grime. One tire was flat, and the vehicle steamed as if having sipped its last ounce of coolant.
The staff at the course could not have been kinder, Waugh said. They took the vehicle, washed it and fixed the flat tire, then returned the keys to the Waughs late in their round.
During the time that it took to rehabilitate the car, the younger Waugh had little time to warm up, but it didn’t affect his demeanor as he giggled about the experience.
The elder Waugh said they turned a potential disaster into an adventure, and his son agreed, then proceeded to hit his opening tee shot down the middle of the fairway and stiffed his approach shot to make birdie, and he was on his way.
On what would be the toughest day of the four because of the wind, Waugh shot 1-under 71 and moved up 19 spots, into a tie for 35th.
With his father having to return to the U.S., Waugh carried his own bag for the final two rounds. He birdied three of his last four holes to finish T-25 and earn conditional status.
Each Waugh had done his job, with the father getting the son to his tee time and the son earning tour status.
Afterward, Waugh was headed to Cape Town, South Africa, to play in the Cape Town Open on the Sunshine Tour. His scheduled route would take him from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to South Africa. When he arrived at the airport, he was asked by an airline employee whether he had a yellow-fever certificate. Anyone flying from Brazil to South Africa required the documentation.
With no certificate, Waugh was rebooked from Buenos Aires to New York to Cape Town, a 50-hour odyssey, including 14 hours in Buenos Aires.
The elder Waugh told his son that these are life experiences that are part of chasing the dream.
As I was walking by the putting green at Pebble Beach on Wednesday, I looked over and saw a familiar face pointing and smiling at me.
I first met Steve Jones during a practice round at the 1996 U.S. Open, my first Open. We seemed to hit it off, and then he won his only major championship.
He’s 60 now and has had a career of niggling injuries.
I asked him what he was doing here, and he said, “I couldn’t get into Boca, so I came here.” The Champions Tour is playing in Boca Raton, Fla., this week, and his full-time status long ago ran out on the 50-and-older circuit.
Because of his past-champion status, Jones still can play in Pebble Beach, where he won in 1988, and in Palm Springs, where he won the 1989 Bob Hope Desert Classic.
As he stood rolling a new putter and making almost everything, he smiled and said, “I can’t hit it as long as these guys, but I can roll the rock.”
Three different golfers on different parts of their career, still chasing the dream.
I know there are many more out there, striving to make a mark in the game. Not everyone has the skill or good fortune to play on the PGA Tour, but it clearly doesn’t stop them from trying.
Which makes it all the more remarkable, to have that unwavering self-belief that at almost any age that they can find a way to qualify for a tour or an event, make the cut or maybe even win.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli