Coyne is roughly the same age as Tiger Woods (and me, by the way), and he wanted to know if devoting his life to golf for a year would allow him to make the PGA Tour. To play with the Big Boys. How hard could it really be? So, in the fall of 2003, Coyne quit his job, moved to Florida, hired a golf coach and a sports psychologist, and spent all day, every day, for a year, working on his game. It is the dream of all weekend golfers chained to their desks. He spent hours on the range, lost weight, fixed his slice, and started making perfect divots. You will have to read the book to learn whether he made it through Q School or not, but I can tell you, it is an amazing ride!
My favorite passage starts on page 51 of the hardcover edition: "The ladder I am attempting to climb this year is surely a long one, with rungs separated by almost impossible distances, the bottom of which is much more crowded than the spots at the top."
Coyne then goes on to describe a "golf-greatness pyramid." The bottom rung contains The Best Player You Know. "And here's the news about the Best Players You Know: They're shit. Scratch is shit. The Best Players You Know simply cannot play." Think about that for a minute. Think about all the people you know that you would happily trade golf swings with. Colleagues, college friends, guys at your country club, players with silky-smooth swings. Think about never slicing a drive into the woods; think about getting out of the sand trap on the first swing. Think about dreaming of reaching scratch. Then realize how far down the golf ladder scratch players really are.
Club Pros are next on the pyramid. These are the guys we take lessons from. They may have once dreamed of making a living on tour, but they are now chained to the clubhouse. I have played a round with my golf teacher; he is in his late 40s, and I can only dream of hitting the ball like him. Every time I ask him about replacing one of my clubs, he picks it up, hits a beautiful, straight shot well beyond where I was hitting it. And as he hands it back to me, he asks, "What is wrong with this club?" But the truth is: he never plays anymore, so he cannot really go low.
Then there are the Stud Amateurs: the golfers who compete in the USGA's amateur events each year. One of my golfing goals is to some day play in one of the USGA's amateur qualifying tournaments, like the Mid-Amateur. But that is years away. In order to apply to play in the USGA Mid-Amateur tournament, for example, you must have a handicap index of 3.4. And that is just to fill out the application to be eligible to play in the qualifying events! And the stud college kids under the age of 25 are not allowed in the mid-amateur. Imagine actually playing on the last day of such an event. In his article "How Low Can You Go?" in the June 2011 issue of Golf Digest (republished on Golf Digest Canada's website), Max Adler explores this same subject. He quotes Butch Harmon: "A good amateur's handicap is based on traveling to different courses and competing. If you're not shooting four or five under ever time you tee it up at your home course, where you know every little break, then you're no good." Four or five under par! I just want to shot par — once.
Next are the Attached Club Pros. They are hired by country clubs just so the members can watch them on the driving range and follow them at tournaments. They actually win the USGA's amateur tournaments.
Mini-Tour Philanthropists are above the Attached Club Pros on the pyramid. These are the kids who played college golf but are not ready to join the real work world. They play in the Hooters Tour, the Gateway Tour, the Pepsi Tour, and others. But they rarely win. Their parents and friends are helping them pay their way. They are simply donating their entry fee each weekend, hoping to find their swing.
The Mini-Tour Grinders take the money from the Mini-Tour Philanthropists. They actually make money playing golf. As Coyne says, this is "where the pyramid moves out of the red and into the black." These players travel the world searching for a payday. But how many golfers dream of playing on the Asian or Australian tours?
Then come the Nationwide Earners (now the Web.com Tour Earners), professionals with a steady, set schedule. If you live in the Dallas area and you want to know how good these guys are, drive up to the TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney during October 25-28, 2012, for the Web.com Tour Championship. These guys are on TV, albeit the Golf Network on cable. But they have sponsors and can realistically dream of catching a break to play in PGA Tour events.
PGA Tour Survivors are next. They are the guys that earn their tour card the hard way. Want to know more about PGA Tour Survivors? Then read Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major by John Feinstein, which is also an excellent book. These guys do not automatically receive a tour card; they have to qualify again each year. But they can still make six figures based on sponsorships and a few good weekends. As of this post, the 126th player on tour had winnings of $586,758. But he will not receive a free invitation back to the PGA Tour next year!
PGA Tour Superstars are at the top. You don't just know their names, you know their first names: Tiger, Phil, Rory, Bubba, Hunter, Zach. Once you reach single-name recognition, you know you have arrived.
Coyne concludes: "Most people don't consider the bulging pyramid of golf talent. They know nothing of how much good golf is really out there. The scratch players at your club—they are, by any statistical analysis, great golfers, top-tier, 1 percent players. And yet, the Club Pro and the Stud Amateur and the Attached Pro, they could dispatch The Best Player You Know using persimmon woods and a guttie. And none of them are quite as battle-hardened as the Mini-Tour Philanthropists who are already making hefty donations to the Grinders, and the Grinders don't even dream about the steady life of the Nationwide Earner, who would still ask a PGA Tour Survivor for their autograph. All of them would stand in line to shake hands with a PGA Tour Player. And as for the Superstars up in the stratosphere looking down on all of it? They should amend those ads on TV — These guys are good. How good? You've got no f@&#ing idea."
Great insight! I highly recommend Paper Tiger.
Also by Tom Coyne: