Isn't he glamorous, the touring golf pro in his loosely flared shirt sleeves, double-knits perfectly aligned with his wingtip cleats, leaning casually and very, very coolly on his driver? Then he goes home to the Ramada, packs the sticks in the beat-up van and drives to Toledo.
If he has a name like Mark Calcavecchia or Adrian Stills, his career earnings on the PGA Tour probably equal what Jack Nicklaus tips his caddie when his son isn't caddying for him. He flies economy coach or drives, tends to stay in a friend's guest room, and maybe his wife, his sister or his brother-in-law carries his clubs.
He is the struggler on the PGA Tour, and he is the rule, rather than the exception.
Calvin Peete was one, Kenny Knox still sort of is one, Mac O'Grady was a perennial one who went to qualifying school 17 times. You can even buy one, if you are a sponsor who prefers to spend $30,000 in idle money on a golfer instead of a piece of racehorse.
For every one of the top 125 money winners who earn exempt status each year, there are brigades of talented but borderline players who drift on and off the PGA Tour with equal regularity, unable to play consistently enough to earn full-time touring pro status, and barely making expenses.
The PGA Tour lists 336 members, including seniors and nonactive players. That does not include those currently without their playing cards, even though so many keep coming back despite the $30,000 to $40,000 cost of playing the tour each year.
"I get plenty depressed with the game," Calcavecchia said.
"Sometimes I feel like breaking every club in the bag. But then I think about getting a real job and all of a sudden golf looks real interesting again." Picking Their Spots
The fringe players are lucky to get in more than 12 or 15 tour events each year, tend not to make the cut, and spend the rest of the time competing on minitours such as the Space Coast Tour in Florida. They wait for events typified by the current Kemper Open at Congressional, the kind that does not draw a particularly large field of big names and usually yields a couple of withdrawals that allow alternates in. The idea is that one good finish can pull a player into the top 125 on the money list, giving him that exemption for the next year.
"What people don't realize is how hard it is to get into the 125 exempt," said Tommy Valentine, a relatively successful 10-year veteran who was forced back to qualifying school in November, his third trip.
"No. 125 out here is barely making ends meet. If you're 125 in anything else in the world, you're probably filthy rich.
"After 10 years, most of my close friends are gone. It's just a low success rate. For every 50 that qualify, maybe 10 make it." Breaking Through
A typical year for a fringe player might go like Kenny Knox's in 1985, when he made $44,000. He won $27,000 of it in official PGA Tour money and picked up $17,000 in minitour events. But that $27,000 only put him 146th on the money list and he had to go back to qualifying school to try to better his position. He failed, and had to win back his card yet again in November.
After eight years and a total of 11 passes through qualifying school, this year was absolutely going to be Knox's last on the tour. He parted with his sponsors, who had lost $30,000, and had his eye on a club professional job in Tallahassee. Given a choice, he probably would not have come back at all. He had to be talked into it by his wife Karen, who used to caddie for him. "He tried real hard to quit," she said.
"I was 29," he said. "It was time for something to happen. It was mainly time to get out of the hole."
And then the most remarkable thing happened.
After years of traveling the country in a van and sleeping in the car by the road, Knox became a first-time tour winner in February at Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla. He took home a $90,000 check from the Honda Classic, winning by a stroke. He had just qualified for the tournament the Monday before.
"I was totally shocked," he said. "I was in the same position as a lot of people, there are plenty of guys like me who've been out here for years. Maybe they can look at my success and it gives them hope. It can happen to any of them and it can happen any time."
Such breakthroughs are the primary reason players like Calcavecchia come back. A pro since 1981, he has been to tour school five times and he just acquired his first sponsor this season. He waited three months to get into a tour event, made the Kemper, then missed the cut. He will probably play only 12 tournaments this year.
A son of an insurance salesman, Calcavecchia grew up on municipal courses in Nebraska. He has dabbled in other lines of work, taking offseason jobs at country clubs, clerking in offices and spending some time in a golf warehouse. But he decided to be a touring pro at the age of 12, and that was his final decision.
"I refuse to work," he said. "I've tried it . . . I know I can play out here because of the limited success I've had. There's just a thin line between just struggling along and really getting something going." Finding Money
The life of a struggler is not entirely bleak. Some are personable and just well-known enough to hook into corporate outings, teaching fades and bunker shots to captains of industry on Mondays. Quite a few of them have sponsors, for instance Calcavecchia's businessman from Connecticut who formerly backed Ken Green.
But sponsors can be rare commodities. A product of municipal courses and son of a contractor from Orlando, Fla., Stills turned pro in 1981, but not until last November did he find a sponsor and earn his first touring card, after five tries. He would not have joined the PGA Tour without a sponsor. Stills' appearance in the Kemper was his sixth tour event ever. He is still getting the hang of traveling. He missed the cut.
"Sponsors are tough to come by," Stills said, "and you're taking a big chance if you do it alone. You spend $30,000 to $40,000 out here, and that's a big gamble with no guarantee."
Valentine, a golf all-America in his University of Georgia days, had enough immediate success to go without a sponsor. After 10 years, he has parlayed his competitive career into a profitable business, even though his success on the course has been sporadic.
He has earned $317,769 in official money, with a high of $97,323 in 1981, when he ranked 39th. He lost his touring card in 1985 when his swing went bad and he fell into a slump, but his business interests have made him well enough off.
"People who really follow golf know who I am," Valentine said. "There are ways to make money apart from the course. I've made some money playing, I've invested wisely, you can do corporate outings. I've never been at the poverty level like some guys. I always manage to buy a new [Buick] Riviera every year. Even last year." Save the Driving
Mike Gove is a golfer whose earnings amount to $90,521 since he joined the tour in 1980. His 1986 figure is $7,315, ranked 188th, and he has acquired the knack of finding the cheapest flight available in an extra 10 minutes on the phone.
Although some players attempt to travel more cheaply by car, Gove considers that exhausting, time-consuming, and says it can lead to a snap hook.
"What's especially frustrating is when you arrive at 4 or 5 Monday afternoon after driving all night, exhausted," he said. "And you see a guy relaxing on the putting green or chipping around. You can't afford to be even a little out of kilter. It's not worth it."
Gove is a former Walker Cup player who hasn't been able to live up to his early promise, going back to qualifying school five times. His best year was 1984 when he won $30,116. He has only partial sponsorship, which won't cover his expenses.
"I just feel like in the last three or four years I haven't played the way I'm capable of," he said.
"But I also feel like there were too many rounds the last few years where I came out and played well [to give it up]. I certainly wouldn't last another three or four years this way. Not if I'm still in the same position." CAPTION: Picture, Kenny Knox won a PGA Tour event in February, collected $90,000 and showed that perseverance on the fringe can pay. The Washington Post