Every week we watch a PGA Tour Player win around a million dollars. It's either a first-time champion who has now secured a life for themselves in professional golf, or a seasoned veteran who is adding another long line of zeros to their bank account.
We can't help but envy them on some level. I always turn to my wife when I'm watching another guy in the winner’s circle and say to her, "how great must that be to travel around the world playing golf…for money!!!" I'm sure most of you reading this have had similar fantasies also.
When you've secured your card on the PGA Tour, and won a tournament or two, your troubles are mostly behind you. Your professional life is secure, and you don't have to worry about what you are going to do if things don't work out in your golf career.
What we see on TV is certainly glamorous, but there is an army of players out there trying to make it to the big time who don't get much coverage. They are on mini tours all around the world struggling to get their shot on the big stage, and are often playing for purses that won't even cover their travel expenses.
They all can shoot a 64, and most of them have had storied amateur careers before they made the jump to the professional ranks. There's a razor-thin line that separates many of these players from "making it." It's a few more putts for birdie or par a round when it matters most, and maybe one less tee shot that doesn't find the trees.
Most of all, cold hard cash is what separates them. When you are a professional golfer trying to make it to the PGA Tour you are essentially a startup company. You need capital to keep the operation running. Traveling each week, and paying another tournament entry fee adds up. You need to have access to a top-notch practice facility and golf course to work on your game. That costs serious money also.
A player's bankroll can be as much of a determining factor (if they stick around), as the quality of their play. If you've got the funds to enter a bunch of tournaments, and not feel the pressure of having to cash a check every single week to keep moving forward, that can be a huge benefit. If you're sitting on a mountain of debt, and you feel like every tournament you enter could be your last if you don't make enough money to continue, then you are almost playing with a noose around your neck.
This is real pressure.
I got a chance to speak with one of the other guys trying to make it. His name is Andrew Jensen, and he plays professionally in Canada.
Andrew has been a professional golfer since 2008, and his path has not been easy. If you Google his name you will likely see articles about his battle with depression, and multiple suicide attempts. He has gone public with his struggles, and shared his story so he can help others who are suffering from mental health issues. I commend him for standing up, and going public with his story. We need more people like Andrew in this world.
However, this does not define him. Andrew is a golfer, and it was refreshing to hear him talk about his love for the game and deep belief in his abilities to make it to the PGA Tour. He is 31 years old, and has foregone most of the conventional milestones in life like getting married and having children so he can focus on his dream. In other words, he is laying it all on the line.
Golf is an isolating game, and professional golf is like living on an island. If you have a bad week, you don't have a teammate to blame it on, it's all on you. Carrying that burden is a tremendous amount of pressure, and the only way to move forward is to put the work in, and believe in your abilities.
I have to tip my hat to all of the guys like Andrew. I am trying to pursue an amateur career in my spare time, and just last week had a terrible performance in a qualifying tournament. The pressure got to me, and there was pretty much nothing on the line except my own ego. My performance shook me to my golfing core, and that is about 1/1000th of what guys like Andrew must feel like when they don't perform to their abilities when real money is on the line.
I spoke with Andrew on the phone, and he is an extremely nice guy. It was fascinating to hear about how a pro golfer prepares for tournaments, and the pressures he faces both financially and mentally. Above all, it was great to talk to a guy who loves the game so much that he made it his life's work. You can visit Andrew's website here, or follow him on Twitter.
Here is a summary of what we spoke about:
Is playing professional golf as fun as some of us think it would be? Does it feel like a job sometimes? What is your typical day like at work?
To be honest in my hard times it felt like a job. I love it again though. Golf is my place to escape. All I want to do is practice because I love it so much. I always want to feel like I’m working towards something.
When you’re a professional golfer sometimes the business end of things can take away from that. You have to spend time taking meetings, and trying to find new sponsors, but that's part of the deal. What you really want to do is be on the course, or at the practice facility working on your game.
A typical day starts with grabbing a coffee. I plan out what i’m going to do on a spreadsheet. I base what I'm going to work on for the day off of my last practice session, and keep track of everything I do and try to produce measurable results. It's not necessarily about keeping track of the amount of time I spend on each part of my game, I try to do it in shots hit.
For example, I'll do 100 six-footers with a drill I have, or take 20 pitch shots. Deciding beforehand how many shots I'm going to hit makes you focus more on each shot. Having this plan, and measurable metrics allows you to see progress.
(Everyone please take note that he has a plan before his practice session, this can help you too!)
What separates the guys who make it? Is it more mental than it is physical abilities?
It’s a perfect combination of both. There are technical things that need to happen to hit more good shots than bad shots under pressure, but that ultimately is a mental thing. The guys who are on the PGA Tour aren’t necessary the best balls strikers, but they can handle the pressure and produce shots when they need to.
I personally believe it comes down to determination. If you are determined to succeed, ultimately it will happen. Unfortunately, sometimes it boils down to if you have the bankroll to sustain your career. The top players ultimately don’t have to worry about anything because they have the job security. If you’re playing week to week, dollar to dollar, it’s all about determination, belief, and do you let bad golf get you down, and get in the way? Do you have the grit to keep trying?
How long will you chase your dream for?
Since starting over again after I was sick in 2013 I take it one year at a time. I started playing professional golf when I was 23, and I feel like I wasted 4 years. My plan was that I would be past the Canadian Tour at this point.
At the end of this year I’m going to evaluate if this is something I can still do. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Do people still want to invest in me? At 31 do I want to start thinking about being a husband, or a father?
As of right now all I want to do is play golf though. However, financial reality comes into play, and I have to be realistic about money constraints.
You’ve been a huge advocate for mental health, and been very up front with your battle with depression. How has going public with your struggle affected your golf game? Was it a huge relief?
Going public came naturally. It help me make sense of the earlier part of my career, and why I struggled so much. I was under the myth that confidence on the golf course led to confidence in life, but it was actually the other way around.
I had to make changes to be healthy in my life, and now that has allowed me to be more confident on the course. I try to remind myself of this all of the time, and the whole process of going public has been cathartic.
Amateurs are always asking pros for "the tip", what would yours be?
It's funny, whenever I play in a pro-am guys are always asking us to look at their swings and cure their slice. I think they've been trained to think this way about lowering their scores (you're preaching to the choir!!!)
This is what I would say to them, and it's pretty simple. Just work on 6-foot putts. People are blown away when I tell them I don’t practice outside of 6 feet. If you feel you are automatic within 6 feet, all your other putts won’t seem as scary.