A Walk Nearly Spoiled (Part Four)

By Conaway B. Haskins III
Updated: April 11, 2009

Golf RICHMOND, Va. — After winning the local “Dave Thomas Invitational” money event, Scott Yancy won another local event called the Walt Leidner Invitational in his home state of Illinois. Then, in July 2008, his game went south…literally.

He had decided to take another route to the PGA tour by trying his luck at the Tarheel Golf Tour, a minor league circuit based in the Carolinas and Virginia.

The Tarheel Tour is professional level golf, with the top money winner in 2008 hauling in just over $100,000 playing in 16 of the 20 sponsored events.

The 2007 money-winner pulled down just over $80,000 participating in all 20 events. That seems like good money for the average joe, but when you consider that the average caddie for a top 100 PGA player makes more than that carrying a pro’s golf bag and recommending shots and clubs, it is a paltry sum.

For the uninitiated, the world of professional golf may seem obscure. From the polyester slacks and thick white belts that marked the games early televised forays in the 1960s and 1970s, golf has becoming a high-tech big-money sport with millions of dollars flowing at various levels.

At the top of the professional food chain sits the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, a multi-million dollar organization that organizes 40-45 nationally-televised events per year, paying out a total in excess of $250 million in prize money.

Founded in 1968 to separate the full-time competitive golfers from those who earn a living managing golf facilities or teaching, the PGA is the highest level of competitive golf in the world.

This is the realm of Tiger Woods, and it remains the white whale of many an aspiring golf pro. Annually, 125-150 golfers participate in regular PGA events, and most of those golfers also have endorsement contracts from golf, athletic and corporate sponsors that add additional millions for touring pros to earn.

In 2008, the top 100 golfers on the PGA Tour made a minimum of $1 million each in prizes.

Below the PGA Tour exists the Nationwide Tour (analogous to baseball’s AAA leagues), the NGA/Hooters Tour, the Gateway Tour, and various and sundry other tours paying smaller amounts to competitors.

The Nationwide circuit is the official development league for the PGA, and the top 25 money-winners on that tour earn the right to play in PGA events the following year. At any point in time, 65% of PGA Tour players trace their playing history to the Nationwide Tour.

Golfers play in over 30 events totaling over $20 million in prize money.

Two competing entities occupy the playing space a step below the Nationwide Tour – The NGA/Hooters Tour and the Gateway Tour. The Hooters circuit is owned by the founder of the eponymous restaurant chain noted for scantily clad waitresses.

Its golfers play in roughly 30 events that pay out a total of $6.2 million annually with host sites throughout the Southeastern and Midwestern US. The Gateway Tour is its primary competitor, owned in part by several PGA professionals, and offering over 50 events that pay a total of $7.2 million in annual prize money.

It is based primarily in the Southwestern US and holds additional events in Florida. If the Nationwide Tour is the AAA of golf, the Hooters and Gateway Tours are golf’s AA, and many PGA champions got their start on these tours. This minor league life is Scott Yancy’s world, the place where he proclaims, “I am going forward with my dreams”

Scott’s time on the 2008 Tarheel tour was on par with that in his previous attempts at pro-level golf. He entered seven events, played six and was disqualified in one. He missed the cut in five of the six events he played, and in the other event, he lasted one round and there was not a cut.

His lowest round was a respectable 71 and his highest never more than 84, which gave him an average of 78.7 in 11 rounds. However, in the final season event, the Tarheel Tour Championship, he was disqualified.

Speaking in October 2008, Scott attributed his lack of success to his own shortcomings, not the abilities of the competition. He says, “As for my performance on tour, yes the competition is good, but that has had nothing to do with my play. Quite simply I just haven’t played well.”

He believed that geography was part of his undoing asserting that, “A big part of the problem is that the types of courses we play on [the Tarheel] tour are different from the ones I grew up playing on. The greens are much faster, and there is so much more undulation in them.”

In his mind, this affects the strategy that a golfer must take to play the game well in Dixie. In addition to the course set up, Scott felt that “there is such a premium on driving the ball well because the rough is thick and makes it hard to stop the ball on these firm, fast greens.”

He continued, “after my first tournament on the Tarheel tour where I shot one over [par] in the opening round and knew I had to shoot 68 the second day to make the cut, I probably took too many risks and played too aggressively, thus causing me to shoot +4 on the second round. But what can you do? You have to shoot 4 under, you know, so you have to be aggressive.” He seemed rather wistful about this noting, “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

After just one tournament, Scott decided to make a rather drastic move. He said that “After that tournament, I decided that I needed to change my golf swing so that I could be more accurate and hit more fairways and greens. I enlisted the help of Brian Fogt at Bellereive Country Club in St. Louis.”

He felt this shift would make him more competitive. However, over the next five events, his performance did not get better. He chalks this up to the swing overhaul, “The scores you saw after that first tournament are reflective of me trying to play golf on tour while working on swing changes. It’s very tough.”

Quite frankly, making swing changes in the midst of a season was a risky move. After his changes did not succeed, he changed back.

By the time he got to an event in South Carolina, Scott “finally said ‘forget the swing changes,’” As he figured, “I may not be the most accurate player on tour, but I hit the ball so far that even when I’m in the rough, I can still hit wedges and 9 irons into the greens. So I went out and played ‘Scott Yancy, no holding back’ style golf.”

He felt this made him much more competitive.

“I made 5 birdies and an eagle in the first round but managed to only shoot -1. Nonetheless it was my best round on tour this year and set me up in excellent position to make the cut.”

“I made six bogeys in that round primarily because the golf course was so wet and soggy that I had a hard time playing chips and pitches around the greens. They just didn’t react the way I thought they would and that left me a lot of 15 footers for par.”

Scott’s second round was shaky. He says, “I started off the front nine hitting the ball all over the map. I was dizzy when I woke up and my balance was off. I got up and down for par on the first 5 holes. I had hit no fairways and no greens, but mentally I was just grinding, you know.”

“Finally I missed an ‘up and down’ on 6 and dropped back to even for the tournament.” Scott can painfully detailed getting derailed. Going from bad to worse, he ended up hitting a shot that required inventions from rules officials. After the dust settled, he ended up carding an 84.

“What a roller coaster. I learned my lesson – know the rules and always, always, always play my best no matter what,” he reflected.

Despite his less than stellar play on the Tarheel tour, with the 2009 season in gear, he says, “My game is back…I can promise you that I will play well….I have figured out what it takes for me to play well.”

So far, 2009 has proven interesting for him. Scott says that he shot +3 at a qualifying event for the Honda Classic when -2 was the necessary score. Hitting that bump has not stopped him.

He says that, “I have my card on the Hooters tour again. Via my 13th place finish at Hooters Tour qualifying school this year, I am eligible to play the Hooters Tour events as I see fit. But I am not playing until I feel that my game is ready to be competitive.”

With several fits and starts in his past, Scott is starting to look frankly at his career choices. The dreams of an 18 year-old college freshman on scholarship turned into the hopefulness of a 23 year-old reality TV contestant. Now, at 28, he is blunt about his journey saying, “The major reason for me turning pro again is simply money.”

“See, right now I work 50 hours a week in retail, my schedule varies quite a bit, and our peak days are on the weekends. So, it’s really tough for me to take days off to play in tournaments.”

“Also with the [work] schedule, sometimes I work at morning sometimes I work at night. It makes it so hard for me to get time to practice when most of the time I’m trying to catch up on my sleep so I can function the next day at work.”

Scott now realizes the sheer amount of work he must put in to get on the path to the PGA. “The only way I have a chance to make it to the PGA Tour is to be able to put in 10 hours a day like the rest of the guys that are out there.”

“I just can’t do that working [in a retail job]. Can you imagine how good of a basketball player Michael Jordan would’ve been if he had to work 50 hours a week during basketball season?”

Noting his desire for financial assistance, he says, “If I can get a sponsor or a few sponsors, I can get back to practicing and getting ready to compete out there. Otherwise I could try to be competitive based on my raw talent which is basically what I had to do when I was on tour before.”

“I need money for a good teacher, membership at a tour quality golf course, and to pay enough of my bills so that I don’t have that extra stress and pressure on my shoulders. It doesn’t help knowing that if you miss a cut you might not have enough money for gas to go home.”

In his quest for golfing, he is turning to a higher power to set his feet on solid ground, saying “I believe that it’s God’s will for me to play, and my struggle is part of my testimony.”

Despite the longest of odds, Scott has confidently proclaimed that during the 2009 season, “My golf game will be ready and no matter what, I am going forward with my dream.”

For a seasoned professional golfer with years of Nationwide and PGA tour action under his belt, such a plan would still be considered ambitious. But, for an Illinois mall employee with less than 10 years of competitive golf experience, who dropped off of two lower-level college teams and shoots scores that would barely win championships at the local country club, this undertaking is downright impossible.

Yet, Scott Yancy toils on, and with a new season afoot and the power of the Internet and TV, everyone can watch to see if his good walk ends up spoiled.