Al Morton is a 26-year-old graduate of Anacostia High School who learned to play golf at the Langston golf course and later caddied and shagged balls for veteran Washington professional Lee Elder. Last November, Morton qualified for the Tournament Players Association Tour at the TPA Fall Qualifying School in Huntsville, Tex. He previously played golf at Indiana University and for the U.S. Army before trying the "minitour" in 1980. In the coming months, Morton will share some of his experiences as a rookie on tour.
Monday is qualifying day. That's when about 125 players who aren't among the top 60 money winners from the previous year, or didn't make the cut at the last tournament, play 18 holes for the remaining 25 to 38 spots in a tournament.
You usually have only one day, so the key to qualifying is to shoot par or better and hope for the best. But you have to think positive and be aggressive. I felt at an early age I was going to try this if I ever got the chance. I feel I can succeed. And I like the independence of it all. It's not like a team effort; the burden is on you.
I arrived at the first tournament in Tucson last month three days early and played two practice rounds very well. I was really geared up, but not nervous. You've got to know that once you begin, it's dog eat dog. Just go and do it.
I hit the ball well that first day and scored 72 because I had three three-putt greens and finished with 37 putts and 35 shots for the round. I missed qualifying by two shots, so that was that.
I hung around the course on Tuesday and watched some of the name players come in, like Mark Lye, Bobby Clampett and Calvin Peete. You can practice with them, but it's an unwritten rule that you don't use the course for a round unless you're in the tournament. Once you get to know some of the guys you might be able to pick up some pointers, but sometimes you can get messed up, too, which is what happened when Jim Thorpe told me my clubs were so flat he didn't see how I could even hit the ball, much less score. Being a rookie, I started tampering with my clubs, making them more upright. Then I started hitting worse, got everything out of sequence, and have been working to get my clubs back to what they were.
I was trying to please other people instead of pleasing myself. Got to stop that.
I didn't qualify at Phoenix, either, but things brightened considerably in San Diego when I played well enough on Monday to get into a 24-man playoff for 14 places. They held the playoff--a sudden death deal--on Tuesday. Coming to the fourth hole, 12 of the places had been taken (bogey and you're gone) and there were three of us still after the other two spots. I had a par on four, and one of the other guys made bogey. I was in.
San Diego Open: Shot 69 the first day, with one birdie and an eagle, and was I feeling good about myself. The next day I shot 73, but I made the cut with birdies on two of the last four holes.
Tragedy struck in the third round. And, if there's something I don't need out here my first year on the tour it's tragedy. I had just come off 17 with a bird, looking to birdie 18, a par-5. I hit my driver well, and felt fine about everything when my caddie told me, "I got some bad news for you. I just kicked your ball by mistake."
I didn't need that. I had to call over my competitors and tell them what happened and take a drop. It cost me a two-shot penalty. I was mad and fighting myself, finishing the day with a 74, two over. I don't think my caddie was paying attention, but I couldn't fire him because I'd already paid his salary ($200, plus qualifying rounds) for the week.
The next day I was still upset and shot 78 (finishing at 294, 73rd place, earning $579). I didn't make any money that week, either, because you spend between $1,000 to $1,200 a week on the tour. (Editor's note: Morton has several Washingtonians who are backing him financially).
I did play the Crosby, but did not make the cut. I came back to Washington, bypassing tournaments in Hawaii and Los Angeles, to get some things straightened out before getting back on tour next week at the Bay Hill Classic in Orlando.
I have to learn to forget about a bad hole and keep a positive attitude throughout the rest of the round. You have to regroup and think ahead, not look back. What hurts are those double bogeys. And what hurts most is that I know I can do better. But the pressure can get to you and make you start seeing the shots before you hit. That creates errors.
What wins out here is chipping and putting. And keeping the ball in play. Had I made some of the putts I missed in tournaments, I would have been in real good shape. I went out trying a new putter and it never worked. Once I feel I get a putter that I really like, my score is going to go down. Putting creates confidence. Birdie putts are particularly crucial, because the Tom Watsons and Johnny Millers are going to be dropping 15- and 20-footers as if they were two-footers.