For Bill Haas and Matt Hendrix, this is only the beginning: a first step in what each hopes will become a long and successful professional career. Haas and Hendrix will make their PGA Tour debuts today at the Booz Allen Classic, but each is trying to remain low-key about the milestone.
"I know this is just the beginning of a career," Hendrix said. "You can't expect too much of yourself to start off with from the first tournament. All I can do is just go out there, relax, enjoy the atmosphere, just play golf."
Haas, the son of longtime PGA Tour pro Jay Haas, played in last week's U.S. Open as a tuneup for this week, sort of like a fledgling rock band playing Madison Square Garden as practice for its maiden gig at a local watering hole.
"I'm kind of almost looking more forward to [the Booz Allen] more than I am here," Haas said outside the clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills last week, "just because I only get seven tries to get my card, and that's my first one. You kind of got to be ready to go. As big a deal as this is, I'm still a rookie out here, and I think it's almost a bigger deal next week to play well."
The card to which Haas refers is what would guarantee him entry into every PGA Tour event next season and allow him to try to earn a full-time living playing golf at its highest level. Haas will receive his card only if he finishes in the top 125 on the season-ending PGA Tour money list this season; otherwise, he would have to earn his way on like most others -- via the grueling Q School, which is a series of qualifying events throughout the fall and early winter.
Thanks in part to his father, Jay, who has nine victories in 23 years on tour, the younger Haas gets to skip Q School for now as he endeavors to play his way onto the PGA Tour through sponsors' exemptions. A player is granted a maximum of seven exemptions in one season.
"I try not to give him too much advice," Jay said of his son, who graduated in May from Wake Forest after winning the Ben Hogan award as college golf's best player. "I try not to be a dad too much. I tell him it's just a matter of experience."
However Bill fares in Potomac, his father said he will not be watching in person. He wants to alleviate the pressure on his 22-year-old son, who has learned plenty from his frequent playing partner and sometime coach just by watching. The father and son feel it's best for Bill to take this next step alone.
"He's ready now," Jay said.
Hendrix, a 23-year-old recent Clemson graduate from Aiken, S.C., leaves behind a successful amateur career. He was a top golfer on Clemson's 2003 NCAA championship team. This past season, he led the Tigers in stroke average with 71 and had six top-10 finishes. Hendrix, a finalist for the Ben Hogan award, was ranked No. 10 nationally in the Golfweek/Sagarin collegiate rankings. Last summer, he won the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur and was selected to the Walker Cup team. He was one of two U.S. golfers to go undefeated at the 2003 Walker Cup.
"The thing that you'll miss the most about being an amateur is that if you play poorly at an amateur event [it is] no big deal," Hendrix said. "You go back home. Nothing is lost. Now, it's making a living, and if you don't play well, then your whole trip is nothing but expenses. That's what makes or breaks professionals. The ones that play well they make plenty of money. The ones that don't find it difficult to pursue a professional career."
Even though Hendrix realizes he must play well each week to at least cover his costs, he tries not to get caught up in thinking about what his paycheck could be.
"I've got a lot of college buddies who I used to play with who are on tour now," Hendrix said. "They'll tell you straight up the best way to play your best golf is just relax, not worry about money and playing well to pay off some debt. That's when your game goes south."
A few golfers have made enough money playing seven events to earn their tour card: Hank Kuehne did it last year, and Charles Howell III three years ago. Hendrix thinks it would be a long shot for him and expects to go to qualifying school in the fall.
"In order to prepare myself for that, hopefully I can get into a couple PGA Tour events and play as many Nationwide events as I can to get used to the competition and playing in that atmosphere," Hendrix said.
This summer is like attending graduate school for Hendrix with the PGA Tour players acting as his professors. He is going to try to soak up as much information as possible.
"I think that would be a great experience for me," Hendrix said. "To see what they do, how they handle themselves and what it is about their game that separates them from where I am, and what I need to do to get to their level."