Belonging

There’s being in the club and then there’s not being in the club any longer. As of yesterday’s cut at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney’s Magnolia and Palm Courses in Orlando, Florida, we have some well known players who are no longer in the club. They missed the cut.

They needed to have a good week—some more than others— to stay or get into the top 125 on the money list and keep their tour cards, but didn’t.

Number 135 on the money list, Scott McCarron, missed the cut by one. He bogeyed the 18th hole.

136th, Billy Mayfair, missed by one. He got off to a great start by making birdies on four of his first five holes…but all but one slowly dribbled away with three bogeys over the last thirteen.

123rd, Woody Austin, missed by two. He triple-bogeyed the 18th hole from 156 yards and fell to a projected 128th. Thank you very much, you no longer have a job.

128th, Bob Estes, missed by two. His final round was adequate at 2-under, but he couldn’t overcome the four bogeys he made in the first round: three birdies weren’t enough when the PGA Tour scoring machine is rumbling down the track.

124th, Michael Allen, the subject of my post, “Victory Isn’t Always A Win,,” missed by three: too many mistakes in the first round. But he was already mentally committed to going back to Q-School for a 16th time, so maybe his effort was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And finally, 197th, Rich Beem, winner of the 2002 PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors, has fallen off the face of the earth. He only played ten events this year due to back surgery in April. But he’s close to coming back. He was 3-under on this first round and 2-under on his second…until he struggled in with six bogeys on the back nine. He missed by four. Presumably, he’ll receive a medical exemption next year to allow him to make up his lost time on tour this year.

Because these guys are who they are, because of what they’ve accomplished in their careers, they may not be out of the club definitively. They just don’t have the certainty of a top-125 exemption. They may still be able to get in on other exemptions they qualify for: 126th through 150th, past champions status at individual tournaments, one-time, one year exemption for career money, etc. And, of course, sponsor’s exemptions into individual tournaments. The PGA Tour’s money list can be a cruel mistress and is the sports world’s leading meritocracy. But it also offers forgiveness and the chance at redemption once you’ve been in the club. But there is cold comfort in walking on that ice.

Here’s hoping these guys find their way back to the club.

It’s important, because the club is, in its largest sense, the fraternity of professional touring players. The club has many layers of substrata with its upper crust being the PGA Tour. But no matter where you find yourself in the mine, the feeling is the same, even down to Monday qualifying. There is first and foremost, a sense of belonging to the club.

Like any club, while you may not know everybody’s name, you know who everybody is…and that they belong. As new players are assimilated into the club, you know you haven’t seen them before. As players leave the club, unless you’re close to their decision to do so, you don’t know they’re gone until you finally realize that you haven’t seen them in a while. In most cases, there is a sense of loss, but in others it may take years, “Oh!”

This isn’t because you are callous or indifferent, it’s because you are busy doing your work. It’s because the work is the center of your existence, while being in the club is just the milieu the work occurs in. But being in the club is an important part of doing your work, because it allows you to play and practice in context.

The last two years I was Monday qualifying, I stayed at home just to work on shooting low scores. At that point, I’d been on the road for seven years and there was no mystery about it for me anymore. I knew what kind of scores I needed to shoot, I knew who the players were (specifically and generally), I knew how the courses were set up, I knew all the Tour officials and they knew me, I knew the cities and how to get around in them and I knew how to travel: pack, find cheap airfares, work airport logistics, find close, 3 or 4-star hotels at great discounts.

But all of my work at home—and it was no less arduous or committed than when I was traveling—was out of context. It was done in the pristine tranquility of my home desert courses, not mid-river in the raging torrent that professional tournament golf is. I was just as disappointed by bad shots, but they were of no consequence and I was never sucked under the rapids, trying to fight my way back to the surface for air. This is what professional tour player aspirants don’t yet understand; just how rough and tumble the emotional and mental part of the game is at that level. On the other hand, that’s why the best are the best: they’ve learned to go with the flow of the torrent and keep their heads above water. Everybody at that level has the shots.

And so maybe that’s what there is about the club. There is, in these other experienced players clustered into an homogeneous group, an unspoken acknowledgement of the extraordinary competency of all the club members, including yourself. So when your humanity (the virtually inescapable egoic mind) looks for something to bolster itself with, membership in the club is an irresistible intoxicant. Intoxicant because, while you luxuriate in the mind-rush of your club membership, you lure yourself away from that larger sense of who you really are, your spiritual essence stripped of the ego facade.

So when you miss the cut in the last tournament of the year to lose your card, not only is there the losing of your job, there’s losing your very identity.

That’s why it’s so important to know who you really are and it’s not some member of a club. The club is merely where you work.

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