Life on the PGA Tour has been far from sweet for Al Morton, heir apparent to Lee Elder as the District of Columbia's man in big-time golf.
For Morton, his game is only one of life's worries. On the tour, "I was living worse than some of the caddies," he said last week. "They're staying at the Quality Inn. I'm staying at the Unknown."
After qualifying for the high-stakes tour in November, Morton has teed up for 11 tournaments but spent more than 10 times what he's taken in.
Flying the country, living on the run, Morton has sped through about $7,000, mostly in money from local sponsors. His winnings? About $600.
The big names on the tour--a Jack Nicklaus, a Tom Watson--live in a different world from his, Morton said as he played a tuneup round for the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club.
"When they come into a town their whole schedule is laid out. They know where they're playing, who they're playing with, where they're staying. They don't have to worry about anything."
Even in his home town, it took Morton three or four holes at Congressional before he'd shaken the cobwebs out of his game. He had played 36 holes of U.S. Open local qualifying in Atlanta two days before, then driven all night to get here. "I haven't had too much sleep," he said.
"Rabbits" like Morton face significant hurdles on tour events. To get into the field they must qualify on Mondays by besting their peers. Having accomplished that, they must play well enough over the first two rounds to survive the cut when the field is winnowed down.
On his 11 stops so far, Morton has survived the qualifying round twice, in Tallahassee and San Diego. And in Tallahassee he failed to make the cut after two rounds. In California he survived the cut, but finished the tournament "dead last," he said.
Less optimistic fellows might drop their clubs in despair, but Morton, a picture of fitness and apparent good cheer, hasn't even lowered his sights.
"There's five months left on the tour," he said, "and I expect to finish in the top 125 money-winners."
This forward-thinking attitude did not surprise his caddie at Congressional, Ben Culbreth, who remembers Morton from his hustling days at the late, lamented public course in town, Langston.
"The first time I saw him," Culbreth related, "I said, 'That's an arrogant little motor scooter and I'm going to beat him.' "
At the time, 14 years ago, Morton was 13 years old and cleaning up on people who thought the way Culbreth did. The caddie was four years Morton's senior, but when they played a match Morton coolly won it on the late holes. Culbreth recalls it, and the two or three dollars he lost, "like it was yesterday."
"The thing is," said Culbreth, "he was a pressure player even then."
At Congressional, playing with local auto dealer Jack Pohanka (one of his sponsors), Morton shot a cool, one-under-par 71 on the Kemper course. If he duplicates that in competition it should keep him in the pack, assuming he qualifies today. There will be 92 players competing for 20 spots left in the field.
Morton thinks a lot of his worries are over. A group called the Pro Duffers Club is backing him and he now feels he'll have enough money to concentrate on golf rather than logistics.
"I had $1,000 to spend in Atlanta," he said, and the result was a smooth journey through the first obstacle on the way to qualifying for the prestigious U.S. Open. He survived the local qualifying, but after the Kemper he still must make it through 36 holes of sectional qualifying at Bethesda Country Club.