To a professional golfer, a players' card is a passport to the tour. Without it he is not eligible to compete, at least not regularly. Even with a card he is not necessarily in, for he must still qualify for a starting spot in any given event. But if he has no card, that 3¾-inch by 2½-inch piece of pasteboard stating that he is eligible to play in the tournaments of the Professional Golfers' Association, he does not even have the right to try to qualify.
Players earn their cards at the annual PGA school, for which the final examination is an arduous 108-hole tournament. Only the top finishers get their cards, the exact number depending on the overall ability of the class. The 1972 school was held in Napa, Calif, in October, and one of the contestants was 22-year-old Jim Simons, a Wake Forest graduate who as an amateur led the 1971 U.S. Open after three rounds, eventually finishing fifth, and who tied for 15th in last year's Open. At Napa, however, these impressive achievements were worthless. Simons was merely one of 81 golfers fighting for a chance to play the pro tour with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. Here is his story.
Thursday, Oct. 26
I'm scared. I've been that way since I drove up to the Silverado Country Club in Napa last Tuesday night. I've waited for this for a long time. I started playing golf when I was 3 years old in Butler, Pa., and I honestly can say that it didn't take me long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. There have been very few days in the last 15 or so years that I haven't worked at or thought about the game of golf. I've practiced in the snow, worn gloves because of the cold, chipped ice out of the cups on the greens, played in the drenching rain and planned my vacations and selected my college with the sport in mind. I'm just like a few thousand other kids my age who watched Arnold Palmer making miracles in the late 1950s and decided that was what they wanted to do, too. There have been a lot of days when I didn't feel like standing on a putting green under a broiling sun for two hours or hitting a bagful of practice balls and walking out and picking them up so I could hit them again. But I did it because I knew there were other guys on other putting greens or other practice ranges doing it—all for this week.
And now, if it's possible, I'm scared and I'm confident at the same time. I know that I should be able to play a little better than most of the people here. But there have been others who came to this tournament feeling that way and ended up disappointed. Former Amateur champion Bruce Fleisher and David Graham, who played for Australia's World Cup team, both failed in their first attempts at the qualifying school. There are 41 guys here this week who missed it in previous years and are back again. And there are some talented players who did not even make it this far. They were eliminated in one of the three regional qualifying tournaments held two weeks ago.
Friday, Oct. 27
The guys have been calling me Jim Brown. A bunch of us drove into San Francisco the other night for a little bit of bright lights, big city. We visited Chinatown and the North Beach area where they have all of these topless shows. Anyway, we ran into a couple of guys who looked sort of rough, and when they asked me my name, I blurted: "Jim Brown." So now everybody is calling me Jim Brown. Normally I'm a pretty cautious fellow, I guess. In San Francisco I hid my money in my shoe. I figured if anybody looked there I would need more than a sand wedge to get out of the trouble I was in. Last year Dave Clark and John Mahaffey went to New York City for the All-American Collegiate Golf Dinner, and they were mugged. Nothing like that happened to Eddie Pearce, Nate Starks, Jim Black or myself. We wound up at the Playboy Club. We all joined, although we won't be using our new memberships for a while. The trip was just a onetime thing. You don't want to work too hard and get all uptight this week, and at the same time you don't want to play around and forget why you're here. I've tried to think of everything that might give me an edge, including giving up caffeine for the week. Coffee tends to make me nervous, and many times soft drinks have had the same effect. So I'm on the wagon until the tournament is over.
One of my friends who is competing here, Larry Stubblefield from Hawaii, has a unique attitude about the players' school. Although he has had little amateur tournament experience, he refuses even to discuss the possibility of failure. Maybe that works for him, but I have to feel and know that fear about not succeeding. I want to worry about it all week. One thing I am worrying about right now is the number of spots we are playing for. We won't know until after the first two or three rounds are completed and the PGA announces the figure. I wish we knew now.
Saturday, Oct. 28
Today Tom Kite and I were discussing the different types of pressures the players here are experiencing. Tom, Eddie Pearce and I are mentioned by a lot of people as the "favorites" to do well. That adds a little pressure. In addition, we all have played well in international competition in the past few years and our records have helped us make some preliminary endorsement contacts. I have a contract with the Ford Motor Company, part of a group Ford calls the Young Thunderbirds. It includes Johnny Miller, Jerry Heard, Lanny Wadkins, Grier Jones and me, and if you look at the first four names on that list you will see that they averaged more than $100,000 apiece on the 1972 tour. Obviously, people expect me to do well, too. That adds to the pressure.
We are playing Silverado's South Course, which has a par of 35-37—72. It is not long, but it is tight and the rough is heavy and the greens have quite a bit of slope so we will have to putt well. All the par 5s can be reached in two if you want to gamble. However, they all have trouble near the greens, and if a player loses his patience it will be easy to make double bogeys or worse. When the tournament starts I think I'll tuck my gambling shots into my shoe along with my money. Unless I'm certain to carry the trouble I'll be laying up on the long holes.
I'm not hitting a lot of practice balls this week. Instead, I am trying to prepare myself mentally. G olf is a lot like a chess game. You must discipline yourself and plan ahead while making each move one at a time. I didn't always understand this. I played in my first U.S. Open when I was 17 and Arnold Palmer introduced himself to me in the locker room and asked me to play a practice round with him the following day. I was so excited that I went out the next morning and played 18 holes to warm up.
I have a caddie. Some guys carry their own bags or use a golf cart, but I've found that I play better with a caddie, although this caddie is the first I've ever had with a beard and a pony tail. But this is California, isn't it?
Sunday, Oct. 29
My day consisted of relaxing on a drive up in the mountains.
It is really beautiful up there, unspoiled. Down below you can see the vineyards of the Napa Valley, which is the wine country of California. The drive really relaxed me. Basically I am a quiet person. I don't feel comfortable in flashy clothes or around gregarious people. Maybe that is why I like golf. It is a solitary game. Nothing is as lonely as standing over a difficult shot in a pressure situation.
Jack Nicklaus, who I'll admit is my idol, once told me that very few bachelors do well on the tour. His theory was that you need someone for companionship and you need someone to help with organizing things so you can concentrate on golf. Jack said that a husband and wife work together as a team on the tour. At the moment I'm single, but I have a steady girl, Sherry Turner, who is the daughter of my college golf coach, Jesse Haddock, and I guess you could say we're thinking about marriage. [They are now engaged.]
I just finished making out a list of things I want to do this week. 1) I want to get involved, not let my mind wander. 2) I want to keep in mind that there is plenty of time, six rounds, and that I must play only one shot at a time and not press if I start out poorly. 3) I want to ignore anyone else's early low scores because there will be some; I don't think anyone will shoot good scores for six rounds. I'm in the first group off the 10th tee at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. I hope I sleep well tonight.
Monday, Oct. 30
Today was unreal. What happened to our good weather? When I got up there were winds between 35 and 45 mph. The temperature was down around 50, maybe lower. I was five over par after six holes, and starting to think that I might shoot an 80. But I didn't panic, because I knew the rest of the field had to be in trouble, too. All those short dinky holes suddenly were hard to reach with your two best shots when you were into the wind, and going downwind it was impossible to judge what club to use. A wedge could sail 140 yards. The wind started diminishing near the end of my first nine, and I settled down and played the last 12 one under par to shoot a 76, which ties me for 18th. Twenty-five guys shot 80 or worse, and I can certainly understand it. Victor Regalado of Tijuana, Mexico had the low round of the day, an amazing 70, which is even more astounding, considering that he had a triple bogey seven on the first hole. Maybe he thinks he's Lee Trevino.
Most of my friends managed to escape a catastrophe. They all broke 80, which is well in the ball game. There were two 87s out there today, and I'm surprised there wasn't a 90.
Tuesday, Oct. 31
All of my fears came true today. In beautiful weather, just a gorgeous day for golf, I shot a stupid 76, and now I'm in real trouble. I talked about how I wanted to feel fear this week. Today fear was handing me the clubs. I didn't hit the ball too badly, but I putted like a moron. There were seven holes on which I gave away shots with bad chips or bad putts. Just stupid. I found it so hard to think positively when I got a couple over par. The pressure enveloped me. I tensed up because I knew that I couldn't afford to make any mistakes. I knew it was going to be like this and I tried to prepare myself, but I'm really down. I can't wait another year for something I've been thinking about and dreaming about all of my life. I know I'm ready. The pressure is tremendous. I feel as if all of my work and preparation for years will mean nothing if I fail to get my card this week. I've been having some absurd immature thoughts. Like I wish we could start all over.
I felt today as if I was flinching on my putts, which would indicate how nervous I am or that I'm out of position at address so that I have to do something unnatural to hit the ball on line. Now I'm tied for 31st place, and as bad as the scores are I don't think the PGA will give out 15 cards. Thirty-three guys shot 74 or better today. Regalado had a 72 to keep the lead and Tommy Evans had a 68 for the low round. It was just a perfect day, and instead of picking up ground, I lost it!
But maybe I shouldn't feel so bad. Eddie Pearce had his second straight 79 today, and now he really has to go. I understand that he is putting even more poorly than I am, but I don't believe it. Tom Kite came back with a 73 today, and Denny Satyshur kept our room from being a complete tragedy by also shooting a 73. The three of us went to the movies tonight and saw Skyjacked, and I could really sympathize with that pilot flying that plane and waiting for the bomb to go off. That is just about how I feel right now. If the Ford Motor Company hears about this, they're liable to recall one of their Young Thunderbirds.
Wednesday, Nov. 1
My dad isn't here this week. I can honestly say that he lives to see me play tournament golf, but for this week I asked him not to come because I wanted solitude. He understood. I talked to him on the phone last night and he cheered me up. He told me he knows I can play under pressure, and today I did a lot better. I had a 70 that could have been still lower, but I'll take it. The weather was beautiful. If anything, that increased the pressure because I knew I would have to shoot a good score. I was one under par through four holes, but a sloping fairway on the fifth got me, and I bogeyed to fall back to even. Then on the sixth hole I rammed a 10-foot birdie putt about five feet past the cup. The silence as the players, caddies and a couple of spectators watched let me know what they were thinking. If I bogeyed here I would feel just like the captain of the Titanic when he hit the iceberg. I made the putt, then made tough pars on the next two holes and birdied the ninth. I was on my way. I hit most of the greens, kept the ball in play and lagged my long putts well, but I was still flinching on some short ones. Occasionally I flinched the right way.
The greens were soft and the pins set in easy spots, and the scores were low. Stubby had a 65, a remarkable round, and took the lead. Eddie Pearce played another poor round. He shot a 74. He needed something under par to get him going and his chances are getting bleaker. Tom Kite had a 75 and now is three strokes back of me. I'm at 222 and tied for 10th place, and feeling a lot better. I also feel pretty good about the number of spots they are giving out. The PGA announced tonight that there will be TPD player cards for the low 22 and ties. Letting in the ties is a humane thing to do. They used to have a sudden-death playoff for the last spot, and one guy here this week, Terry Small, lost out in playoffs in 1969 and 1970. He missed the school last year, too, and is not doing very well this week.
Someone said an interesting thing before I teed off today. I was talking to a guy on the practice putting green who is not having much luck, but he didn't seem to mind. He commented that most of us here have goals, like winning the U.S. Open or the Masters or something like that. "Well," he said, "my goal always was to marry a rich girl—and there she is, standing right over there." No wonder he's relaxed.
Thursday, Nov. 2
Now I'm in a solid position. I had another 70 and I'm tied for sixth. I can shoot a pair of 75s in the last two rounds and probably still qualify, and that might be pessimistic. I'm at four over par and it looks like 12 or 13 over will qualify. I'm feeling so good that I might even eat in the clubhouse tonight. The prices are kind of high there, and most of us have been wearing out a steakhouse in Napa which is offering a 30% discount to the golfers.
Something happened to Larry Stubblefield today that got me thinking. He went to pull a gallery stake out of the ground and felt a pop in his shoulder. At the time he didn't think he could continue with the round, but he went ahead and found that the shoulder did not hurt when he swung a club, only when he was picking up or lifting something, like his golf bag. It would have been terrible if Stubby had been forced to withdraw while he was leading the tournament. The incident pointed out how precarious everyone feels this week. You could smash your hand in a car door, or get the flu, or twist an ankle; almost anything could happen to you, and it would mean sitting out a whole year, or it might mean the end of your career. A guy's confidence could really be shaken if he failed this week, and surely the year's layoff from top competition would hurt because he could not go back to playing the amateur tour. He would have to play in any small professional tournaments he could find. A good example of this is Bruce Fleisher. Everyone thought he would be a big star when he won the 1968 U.S. Amateur, but he failed to qualify in the PGA school, sat out a year and never really has gotten started. Of course, you could say that about a lot of young players. I looked at the PGA money list recently, and the only two rookies in the top 60 were Lanny Wadkins and John Mahaffey.
The game is such a mental exercise. Mentally I was not ready for the first two rounds, especially the second. It was the same sort of thing when I played in the Westchester tournament on the tour this past August. I shot 69-66 in the first two rounds and then I was paired with Nicklaus in the third round. I'm a deliberate player and so is he, and all day I felt as if I was hurrying so that I wouldn't be in Jack's way; I shot a 79, and even though I came back with a 72 on Sunday and won $1,083 it was a real disappointment to me. But all of this is part of gaining experience. The secret is to gain the experience while still making a living.
Even with his bad shoulder Stubby shot a 72 and is tied for first place after 72 holes with Regalado, seven ahead of me. There is some prize money involved, although not much. The PGA is offering $300 to the low player and the next nine places get something, too, and Munsingwear has put up a total of $3,000, with $1,000 going to the winner. But Stubby can have the money. I'll settle for my players' card.
Friday, Nov. 3
This was one of the least enjoyable rounds I have ever played. It rained from the fourth hole on, anywhere from a drizzle to a downpour. I really wanted to have a good score so that I'd be in a position to coast in the last round tomorrow. I shot a 73, but it was hard going. I played poorly on the first nine, and no wonder. I took off my sweater at the turn and it felt as if it weighed 10 pounds! It was water-soaked. I played in a wind-breaker on the back side, felt a lot freer and had a string of four straight threes, which helped a lot.
Surprisingly, there were lots of good scores today. Considering the weather, you would have thought that 75 would have been a good round, but it turned out that 75 lost ground to the field. I stayed in sixth place with my 73, so if I shoot 80 tomorrow I still will make it. Now I admit I'm starting to think about the prize money. I'm five strokes back of first place and Stubblefield.
A lot of guys eliminated themselves today. A few already had withdrawn and I guess a couple more won't show at the first tee tomorrow. My good friend Eddie Pearce is not going to qualify, and it is a real shame. He dropped out of school to play the pro tour, and now he will have to wait another year, although I think most people agree he is ready to play. He had a 76 today and is tied for 55th. My roommate, Denny Satyshur, had a 79 and appears to be out of the running now. Tom Kite had a 74 and needs a fairly good round tomorrow to make it. I think he'll do it. He is a real competitor.
Saturday, Nov. 4
I saved my best for last. I hit all 18 greens, shot an easy 71, finished tied for third place at 436 total, called my parents and signed on with Ed Barner as my business manager on the pro tour. Quite a day.
Stubby and John Adams tied for first at 434, and on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff Larry drilled in a 40-foot putt for a birdie and first place, so he'll be going out on the tour with a little change in his pocket.
There were plenty of tragic stories on the scoreboard. It took a score of 447 or better to qualify and 25 guys, the low 22 plus three ties, made it. One who didn't was Barry Jaeckel. Barry just missed qualifying in last year's school, then played in Europe during the summer. He had quite a record, including a victory in the French Open. Barry sank a five-foot putt on the 18th today, and his caddie let out a big yell. He thought the putt gave Barry a 78 for the day and a total of 447, but when they added up the card it came out to a 79, just one big stroke too many. What a disappointment that must have been. Bob Panasiuk, who is the Canadian PGA champ, shot a 42 on the last nine holes and missed qualifying by four strokes, and Jim Masserio, my partner in the National Team Championship last summer, shot a 78 for 450. Eddie Pearce and Denny Satyshur finished well back at 454. Tom Kite had a 71 and made it easily at 442.
I played with Victor Regalado in the last round, and Victor startled everyone by taking an eight on the first hole. He drove into a pond right in front of the tee, but he settled down and shot a 78 to qualify at 439.
All day long I was keyed up, but with about four holes to go I got a real shot of adrenaline. All my emotions let loose and I thought, "Well, you're going to make it." I'm sure that many of the other guys had the same feeling sometime today. You think back over everything you've done to reach this particular moment and it is overwhelming. I hit good shots the rest of the round and I came up with two of my best on the par-5 18th, two wood shots that left me only 18 feet from the cup. I was really soaring.
Throughout the week a lot of us have talked about what would be a fairer way of qualifying for the tour. Six rounds is a lot of golf, but at the same time it all takes place in a week, and if a fellow has a bad week, he doesn't make it. The only fair way would be to play about 40 rounds. Perhaps golfers could be subsidized on a regional satellite tour for six to eight weeks and the top money-winners from that tour would qualify for the big tour. In six rounds things just happen too quickly. I know that after those first two rounds if I had panicked, I easily could have failed to qualify, and that would have crushed me. As it was, I played the last 72 holes in four under par.
I guess the turning point for me came in the third round when I kept my wits and sank that five-foot putt for my par on the sixth, then parred the seventh and eighth holes and birdied the ninth. That got me going. All week long I kept to my game plan. I concentrated on the mental aspects of the game, did not practice in the evenings and swung slowly and well within myself.
After the final round the PGA had a buffet dinner for the qualifiers. Someone compared it to the last meal before they fed us to the wolves. They took a class picture and also collected $475 checks from each of us for initiation fees and dues and such things. I was happy to write that check. Everyone else was, too. Stubby said something poignant when he accepted his first-place money. He said, "There are 25 first places here this week, and that's all that counts. We'll all be out there." Those words were like music to me. When I heard them I realized that for the first time in a while, I wasn't scared.
Having earned his card, Jim Simons joined the tour late last year, but so far he has found it a struggle. His brief record shows his best finish in six regular tour events this year was a tie for 51st at Tucson. Second place in the pro-am part of the Crosby gave him his largest purse so far, $2,300, and through the Florida Citrus Open his total winnings for 1973 were $3,809. Tom Kite, who was in contention during the final round of the L.A. Open, leads the Class of'72 graduates this year with $10,737. Andy North is second with $10,469. Larry Stubblefield, who won the school tournament, has earned only $590. Eddie Pearce is playing the Tampa mini-tour. He plans to try it all again next October.