TRIAL AND ER­ROR: ONCE PGA TOUR PROS RE­TURN TO WEB.COM TOUR

ONCE-PGA TOUR PROS RE­TURN TO WEB.COM TOUR

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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.

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