Budding golf professional Steve Lejko was confronted with the problem last week of "staying loose in a pressure-cooker situation."
The setting was the PGA qualifying school in Albuquerque, N.M. The low 25 scorers and ties, after 72 holes of competition, became eligible to try for a chunk of $10 million in PGA purses. The others were left to ponder a club job or, perhaps, another line of work.
Lejko, 24, an unaffiliated pro from Cabin John, stood on the first tee the final day realizing he needed a good round to gain his playing card. He was not alone.
"The last day, I noticed something incredible. Nobody was saying anything to anybody. There were about 50 guys standing the driving range and practice green and all you could hear were golf balls. I think I was the only guy saying anything.
"The only thing going through my mind was to stay loose, try to enjoy it and not let the pressure get to me. That is the great test of it - you almost have to look forward to the challenge and not get leery of it."
Lejko played his first nine holes in one over par.He then bogeyed the 10th hole and when he took another bogey on the par-five 14th, he knew his dream of making the tour was slip-slidin' away for the third time. He finished with 77 for 297. The cutoff was 291.
It's a disappointment for me, but I can't say I'm the hardest case out there," said Lejko, in his second year as pro. "Jim Ellis, I know he's missed his final playing card by one shot at least twice. I remember him so vividly at Pinehurst last fall, just staring at the scoreboard."
Jim Thorpe of Falls Church, whose tour card was taken away because he did not earn the required minimum, missed by five strokes at New Mexico and by a single shot at Pinehurst.
Lejko said, "I'm at a point where I just haven't given myself enough of a chance, when I see how much some others have played and how little I've played."
Lejko plans to keep practicing at Bethesda Country Club and the University of Maryland course and will leave in July in hopes of qualifying for the British Open at St. Andrews. He also wants to play on the Florida and Arizona minitours.
Once again, in October, Lejko will go after that elusive tour card, in the Northeast Regionals.
"National talent does help to a certain extent," Lejko explained. "But if you don't have the right technique and attitude, you're just chasing rainbows. I do feel I have the technique. I just have to bring the talent out through the proper attitude."
There are area tournaments aplenty this week with the Women's District Golf Association championship at Congressional starting tomorrow, the Maryland Amateur on Thursday at Talbot in Easton, Md., and the Northern Virginia Amateur Friday at Army-Navy's Fairfax course.
Watch out for the young set in the WDGA, with Sally Voss (returned from Stanford) the lowest handicap at three, Lene Jordan (recently turned 18) at four, and Tina Marlowe at five. Sue Keeney, last year's champ, moved to Florida.
The Maryland Amateur also will have a new champion as Gary Mankulish, winner over Ben Brundred in the 41-hole final last year, has turned pro.
Chip Heyl of Reston will defend his Northern Virginia Amateur title. Heyl, 37, has won the title two of its four years.
Peter Chapin of Cockeysville, Md., who often plays in Middle Atlantic PGA pro-ams, was the only local golfer to gain a PGA Tour card in Alburquerque, on his fourth try. Chapin finished 74-288, tied for eighth. Wren Lum was low at 279. Get used to the name Rocky Rockett. He's also tour bound.