TRIAL AND ERROR: ONCE PGA TOUR PROS RETURN TO WEB.COM TOUR
ONCE-PGA TOUR PROS RETURN TO WEB.COM TOUR
The ups and downs of life on tour in the US.
Journey starts over for those looking to earn back coveted TOUR cards
Raleigh, North Carolina. The sweltering humidity of a typical Carolina afternoon is on full display here, and Brett Drewitt's attire a mostlyblack getup isn't doing him any favors. Nevertheless, the 27-year-old Australian presses onward toward the TPC Wakefield Plantation driving range. He passes through a tunnel underneath a sparsely used road, then carefully up the nearby stone stairway toward the practice range. With his caddie following close behind, he is mindful to watch every step heavy rains muddied the path here, and one wrong turn will end in a slip.
Of course, it wouldn't be his first fall.
There are no determined autograph seekers along this route, no star-struck young lads hoping to catch a glimpse of the best this sport has to offer. There are only others just like him, eager to arrive or, in Drewitt's case, return to the upper echelon of golf that is the PGA TOUR.
“You've got to learn from your experiences, because that's where you want to be,” he said. “You've gotten there, so you know you can get back there. But you've got to use that drive of being there to then get back there. That's what I'm doing.”
Drewitt finds his promising career on a temporary detour, the path to where he rightfully belongs laid out in front of him. He's here in Raleigh competing in a Web.com Tour event, hoping to earn enough points on the money list to reclaim his TOUR card. The top 25 on the money list at the end of the regular season will automatically gain entry onto the TOUR, and 25 more will receive cards based on who earns the most cumulative money in the four Web. com Tour Finals events.
In 2016, Drewitt was one of the coveted few to secure the prestigious card on the strength of tying for fifth at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship. But his rookie year on TOUR saw him make the cut in just nine of 19 events, with a tie for 33rd at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am representing his best finish. He ended the season No. 196 in the FedExCup Standings, enough to qualify for the Web.com Tour finals and ultimately another season on this circuit.
“I was there, but I didn't play great, and I didn't manage my time very well,” he admitted. “Probably a little bit of the whole, ‘Yeah, I'm on the PGA TOUR' thing may have gotten me a little bit. Now that I've been there and had a taste of it, I want to get back there.
“That's why I think I've got a little bit of an extra drive this year,” he continued. “I'm doing those extra one-percent and two-percent things that make you just a little bit better.”
Finding hours in the week for that extra one percent can often be challenging in a player's maiden voyage on the PGA TOUR. Time management proved to be one of the more-difficult aspects of the rookie year, attest Drewitt and American Scott Langley, who lost his card after the 2016 season.
“Out there, there's just a little more going on, and you have to be better at managing your time,” Langley said as he shuffled his way back to his car, beads of sweat on his forehead more often seen than any Lexus or Mercedes-Benz in this particular parking lot.
“There are more requests and demands on your schedule, and you just have to develop the skill of respectfully saying no sometimes and focusing on your own game. I feel like going back to the TOUR, I'll have a real advantage with my experience and knowing how to travel and play out there and how to focus on my own world and not get too caught up in the stuff that ultimately doesn't help you play your best golf.”
Langley believes his stint on the Web.com Tour has taught him valuable lessons he didn't have when he first arrived on the PGA TOUR. Things looked easy at first for the now-29-year-old, who tied for third in his first professional start, at the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii and, a year later, won more than $1.15 million, which earned him a top-80 finish in the FedExCup Standings.
But in 2016 due in part to what he believes was the push and pull of obligations outside the game he missed the cut in 12 of his 22 starts and landed on the Web.com Tour for the first time in his career.
“I used to worry too much about some things I couldn't control,” he said. “Now I just kind of focus on my own world and making sure that I do everything in my power to be prepared and play well. There are just certain things that probably used to bother me that just don't anymore. Being in a good frame of mind on the golf course is of utmost importance, and I feel like I'm better at getting to that place and I get there more quickly than I used to.”
In retrospect, Langley had himself as much to blame for many of those obligations as those around him, when the allure of hefty purse prizes every week proved too tempting for a young golfer like him to turn down.
Consider that a U.S. $6.8 million purse right in the middle as far as money available goes for a standard TOUR event can pay upward of $45,000 for a 25th-place finish, and it's easy to see why it can be difficult not to overexert yourself.
“I didn't have any years on the Web before I got out there, so the learning curve was steep,” Langley recalled. “It's so tempting to play as many events as you can and as many events as you can get into. I learned my lesson the hard way my first year when I was playing my 10th tournament in a row, and I wasn't acting like myself was getting very easily frustrated with little things. It was a sign for me in the future that no matter how tempting it might be, I need to learn how to schedule better and not play so many events in a row and have those important weeks of downtime and rest.” →
You’ve got to learn from your experiences, because that’s where you want to be,” he said. “You’ve gotten there, so you know you can get back there. But you’ve got to use that drive of being there to then get back there. That’s what I’m doing.
This is the delicate balance that life on the PGA TOUR requires. Be careful not to commit to too many tournaments and end up exhausting yourself, they'll tell you, but be sure to still make enough money in order to stick around for another season.
And your game requires a similar level of equity: Do you be aggressive off the tee with driver, or conservative with a 2-iron, knowing a birdie might get you to the weekend and a par could send you home early? The mental strain can be intense for a first-timer, knowing one miss here or one make there can very well dictate the next year of their life.
“The competition is ridiculous out here,” Drewitt said. “They're not the easiest golf courses, but 15-under and 20-under are winning, and cuts are at 2-under or 3-under. It makes you aware of how much a high number can affect you. You can recover from a bogey, but doubles are a little harder to recover from, so you've got to manage your game well. There's a part of you that needs to be aggressive, but there's also a part of you that needs to be smart.”
It's not breaking news that smarts are essential to success in golf. The grip-it-and-rip-it strategy may work well at the local municipal, but preparation and study are keys to climbing the ladder to the PGA TOUR and ultimately the FedExCup playoffs.
To a man, the lack of knowledge surrounding the courses the TOUR frequently stops at along its circuit was detrimental to their hopes of sticking around for another season. It's what happened to Argentinian Julian Etulain, who in 2017 his first year on TOUR landed just one top10 finish before finishing 161st in the FedExCup Standings.
“Sometimes it's playing against you because you want so badly to get to the PGA TOUR,” he said. “This time, it's different because I've been there already, and I'm playing a bit more relaxed. The biggest difference is you don't know the courses if you're there for the first time. They often have Monday proams and Wednesday pro-ams, and even if you're there you can't spend a ton of time on the course. Now, I know to manage my time and I don't need to play as much because I know them already.”
For these players, the Web.com Tour has been as much about reflection as it has progression. It's been a sabbatical of sorts as they dissect the reasons why they're all back, and yet, an affirmation of why they'll soon return.
“It just proves to me that I've been there before and I can do it,” Colombian Sebastian Munoz said. “I've done it once, and I came close to winning up there on the TOUR. It just shows me what kind of talent I have and what I can do. I'm playing good this season, the best I've played, and I'm knocking on the door of a win. I just have to keep focusing on what I can do and do it.”
He's knocking, alright. The whole gang is, for that matter. Munoz and Drewitt each have three top-10 finishes this season; so, too, is Etulain, who also added a win at the Chitimacha Louisiana. Langley leads the pack with four top-10s and a win at the Panama Championship.
The latter, with nearly $249,000 in prize money this year, sat second on the money list entering the RustOleum Championship in early June. Etulain was seventh, Munoz 11th and Drewitt just outside the top 25 at No. 31. Each is within striking distance of another TOUR card.
The bright lights of the PGA TOUR are in reach.
“Everything is just a little bit better,” Drewitt said. “You're playing for more money, so they have more money to throw around on player dining, golf courses, courtesy cars, all that. It's one of those things where the richer you get, the less money you have to spend. You don't have to get a rental car, they give it to you. It's harder out here because you've got to play well just to keep going.”
Keep going, they must. The road is long and arduous, but there is life beyond it. Another chance at the PGA TOUR awaits, and another opportunity to make new memories.
“At every juncture in my career, I've had fun moments and not-sofun moments,” Langley said. “But they've all taught me good things and put me in the place where I am now. I'm grateful for the ups and the downs.”
↑Brett Drewitt during the final round of the Web. com Tour's 2018 The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay - Emerald Reef Course in January, in Great Exuma, Bahamas. (Photo by Ryan Young/ PGA TOUR)
Scott Langley is tossed a ball by his caddy during the final round of the Web.com Tour's Savannah Golf Championship at the Landings Club Deer Creek Golf Course on April 1, 2018 in Savannah, Georgia . (Photo by Ryan Young/ PGA TOUR)
↑(T-B) Brett Drewitt plays a tee shot on the 18th hole during the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament at Whirlwind Golf Club on the Devil's Claw course on December 7, 2017 in Chandler, Arizona. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)Julian Etulain of Argentina during the Web.com Tour Championship held at Atlantic Beach Country Club on September 30, 2017 in Atlantic Beach, Florida.