Woody FitzHugh has no sponsor and hardly any bankroll to pay his way on the PGA Tour. He fancies fast-food hamburgers by necessity and admits there are times he stands over three-foot putts fully aware his next mortgage payment may ride on the outcome.
"At the New Orleans Open (last month), I knew I had a chance to make the 36-hole cut," FitzHugh, 29, of Great Falls, said recently. "I was even par on the 10th tee, with nine holes to go. I started thinking that I only had about $1,000 left with an $800 house payment coming up." He shot 45 and headed for home on the range.
Two years ago, FitzHugh lost his playing card because he won only $5,000 of the $8,000 required to stay on tour. Last year, he played in only the Kemper Open at Congressional (he made the 36-hole cut) and the following week in Atlanta. This year, he has won just $3,300.
So why does he go on, especially when his new driving range on Leesburg Pike near Dranesville is so busy that his wife Joan and his mother Frances say they need his help in operating it?
"As long as I continue to improve, I'll keep playing out there. I'm going to keep trying. But if you level off making $5,000 a year out there, it's time to come back to the club-pro job or, in my case, back to the range."
"When I married him, I kind of knew what I was getting into," said Joan FitzHugh. "I'm not going to drag him off the tour and have him say in 20 years, 'If it wasn't for you, I would have made it out there.' I'll never insist he come off the tour. Not that he would listen, anyway.
"When I see him in good position to do well in a tournament and wheels come off the last day, that's not lack of talent. He just doesn't have enough of a mean streak. He should try to beat everybody's brains out."
FitzHugh started playing golf comparatively late in life, like his friend, reigning PGA champion Larry Nelson. FitzHugh's first organized golf was in 1973, when he lost to his older brother Gill in the District Amateur final.
"I really feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place," said FitzHugh, who got back on the tour by winning last year's Middle Atlantic PGA title. "Part of my responsibility is to make sure the range runs well. At the same time, I'd like to have a shot at making the top 125 money-winners this year." That would gain him next year's all-exempt tour, which will see the extinction of Monday qualifying. FitzHugh is currently 160th.
His last try to qualify, at Atlanta two Mondays ago, he failed. He is in the Kemper, though, by exemption as sectional champion.
"I have mixed emotions about him playing on tour," said his mother, who occasionally joined her son on tour after her husband died. "We want him to do well, but we sure would like him to come help us run the range."
In several tournaments, FitzHugh went into the final round in position to make his mark. In the Hawaiian Open in February, he was tied for 17th and stood to take home a decent check. Playing with Bill Kratzert and George Burns, he birdied two of the first five holes.
"At about the 12th hole, I started thinking, 'Gee, if I shoot a good round here I could make maybe 10 or 12 thousand dollars.' That was the wrong thing to think about. I had too many holes of golf to play." He shot 40 and made $788.
Tied for 21st with one round to play the next week in Los Angeles, he skied to 77 and won $600.