Pro Golf: What’s The Hurry?
I recall vividly standing behind the first
tee of the final round of the 1992 Solheim
Cup, played at Dalmahoy Hotel & CC in
Scotland. Next to me was the father of one
of the players, a guy I had gotten to know
a little bit during the week. I found him to
be a jovial partner at the 19th hole, and
surprisingly relaxed despite the pressure
associated with international competition.
But at that moment, as his daughter
teed off amid typical final-round fanfare,
he looked at me with tears streaming
down his face.
“You cannot imagine what it is like to
watch your child play for the American
flag,” he whispered.
It looks like Russell Henley’s father,
Chapin, might have the same privilege.
Five days before he was scheduled
to graduate from the University of Georgia, the 22-year-old Henley became the
second amateur to win a Nationwide
Tour event. Playing on his school’s home
course, Henley shot 12-under 272 to win
by two shots.
This performance, although surprising,
was not a fluke. Henley is ranked No. 12 in
the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and he
was low amateur in the 2010 U.S. Open,
finishing T16. He was a first-team All-American after his junior season, and he
was named the Fred Haskins Award winner in 2010, given annually to the nation’s
most outstanding college golfer.
To the victor, it is said, go the spoils.
But in this case, the spoils will wait.
Henley, playing in the tournament on a
sponsor exemption, passed on the $99,000
first-place check. And he passed on the
opportunity to immediately turn pro, to
take an exemption through 2012 on the
Nationwide Tour. Instead, he is going to
remain an amateur this summer, with the
expressed goal of making the Walker Cup
“They talk about how much money you
can make playing pro golf but I have never
played golf to win money,” he said after
the tournament. “I love to play golf and
I love to compete and there are a lot of
tournaments I want to play in. I am going
Playing in the Walker Cup is the ultimate honor in the amateur game. It can
be a life changing event. Why some kids
would turn pro and not even compete to
represent the American flag befuddles
me. Sure, it’s the dollar that causes the
decision. I get that.
But think about it: turning pro in June
of any year with no status and nowhere
to play makes no sense. The best you
can hope for is the occasional sponsor’s
exemption. Otherwise, you are left to play
wherever you can on the minor league circuit. What you are really doing is preparing
for the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament,
and nothing is going to happen professionally between June and September
to change that fact. So why not enjoy a
victory lap around the amateur golf circuit
and play for your country?
Consider the recent case of Rickie
Fowler. Fowler was the complete package
as he finished his junior year at Oklahoma
State, as good a pro prospect as has come
along in recent years. A member of the
2007 Walker Cup team at Ireland’s famed
Royal County Down, Fowler delayed his
pro debut so that he could play again in
2009, becoming a member of the victori-
ous squad at Merion. After the conclusion
of that match, Fowler said, “This is the
whole reason I stuck around. This is the
most fun I ever had in golf.”
Then he turned pro, signed the same
deals that would have been there in June
after the NCAA Championship, and it
seems to have worked out pretty well for
him. In fact, his Walker Cup experience
and performance record (Fowler was 7-1
overall) may have been one of the reasons
Corey Pavin selected him to play on the
2010 Ryder Cup team.
Morgan Hoffman and Bud Cauley were
members of that 2009 team, but they have
elected to pass on 2011 and will turn pro
after the NCAA Tournament. At least they
had one Walker Cup experience. Oklaho-
ma State’s Kevin Tway, ranked No. 4 in the
WAGR, will head to the pay-for-play ranks
without ever having played for his country
in the historic event.