Jessica Lewis uses the word "grind" a lot when talking about her new vocation. "It's a grind out here," she says, or "You have to grind it out week in and week out."
Lewis's job? She's a professional golfer trying to make it to the big time by playing in the Futures Tour, where hundreds of golfers shoot for a spot on the LPGA Tour. Launched in 1981, the Futures Tour is a March-to-August, 18-tournament ride that is making a stop in the Washington area this week, when Cross Creek Golf Club in Beltsville hosts the inaugural 54-hole Children's Hospital Futures Golf Classic Friday through Sunday.
Lewis, a Bethesda resident and St. Andrew's School graduate who turned 23 this month, made her Futures Tour debut this past March, 10 months after graduating with a degree in business marketing from James Madison University.
The winner of two consecutive Maryland Women's Amateur titles (2002, '03) and the 2003 Maryland Women's Open, Lewis decided to give pro golf a shot after a four-year varsity career at James Madison University.
She qualified for the tour during a 54-hole tournament last November in Lakeland, Fla. But winning prize money -- and earning a living -- on the tour has been, well, a grind. Lewis has played in 11 tournaments since March, earning a total of $3,313, which places her 67th on the money list. She has only missed one cut -- a missed cut means no prize money -- but her biggest weekly take so far has been $675 for a 25th-place finish.
Lewis's best finish this year, a tie for 22nd last month in Ohio, netted her $545. It's not much, especially when Lewis is financing this Futures Tour venture without sponsorship.
"That's my ultimate goal, to make the LPGA, but I'm realistic," said Lewis, who also qualified for the U.S. Women's Open for the first time this summer, but did not make the cut. She said she would give the Futures Tour "three or four years, as long as I'm improving every year. I could keep improving but if I run out of money, that's it for me.
"I'm a little frustrated with how I'm playing because I'm capable of playing much better. You have to forget that you're playing for money, because if you're thinking about the money you're [going to] shoot yourself in the foot."
Lewis took up the game at age 14 when her father, Al, joined Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase. These days, Al Lewis said his biggest role is support and "giving a little guidance if asked," Jessica Lewis said.
"Parents have to weigh their kid's potential," Al Lewis said. "From my mind I think she has the potential to play in the LPGA. I'm thrilled that she's meeting her short-term goals and making cuts."
For Jessica Lewis, it's no-frills golf. She drives from tournament to tournament in her 2003 Toyota 4-Runner; she has no sponsor to pay tournament entry fees, no coach and no caddie -- she puts her bag on a cart that follows the players around. She said she videotapes her swing "to see what I'm doing wrong."
"It's tough, it's a grind out here. It's not as glamorous as people think it is. But the end goal is the LPGA and from playing in the U.S. Women's Open, I saw how great the ladies got treated," she said. "It makes you work even harder to get there."