Picture Of Success After years of odd jobs and mostly ordinary golf, late-blooming Joe Durant is ready for his close-up

March 19, 2001
March 19, 2001

Table of Contents
March 19, 2001

Inside Boxing

Picture Of Success After years of odd jobs and mostly ordinary golf, late-blooming Joe Durant is ready for his close-up

The headquarters of Edwin Watts Golf sits within a sprawling
industrial park in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., surrounded by a beer
distributorship and a sanitation facility, among other things.
An imposing, L-shaped structure, the headquarters covers about
100,000 square feet. Most of it is taken up by a warehouse that
feeds 52 retail stores, and 10 years ago Joe Durant was part of
its antlike workforce, scurrying around the grid of overstuffed
aisles trying to keep up with the furious flow of merchandise.
Burned out on the mini-tour grind, with a young wife and a baby
girl, Durant had quit competitive golf cold turkey at age 27,
opting for the warehouse and a starting salary of $450 a week.

This is an article from the March 19, 2001 issue

"Joe built boxes, put up freight, and--I probably shouldn't tell
you this--there were times when he swept floors, too," says Jeff
Hardin, the Edwin Watts warehouse manager who helped oversee
Durant in the fall of 1991. "It ain't a glamorous job. This
warehouse is not what you would call climate-controlled."

Three months of hard time in the warehouse--as well as an aborted
attempt to sell insurance--persuaded Durant to give golf one last
shot, and after a decade of toil he is an overnight sensation.
Following a record victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and a
rousing, final-round comeback to steal the Genuity Championship,
Durant arrived at last week's Honda Classic in Coral Springs,
Fla., atop the Tour's money list with almost $1.5 million (which
works out to slightly more than $450 a week). He was also making
a run at the record books: Only 24 players in Tour history have
won three consecutive starts (hence last week's Fort Lauderdale
Sun-Sentinel headline HOGAN, SNEAD AND DURANT?). An opening 67 at
the TPC at Heron Bay left Durant two strokes off the lead, and
when he followed with rounds of 71 and 66, only six players stood
between him and a three-peat.

On the eve of the final round Durant, who before 2001 had won
only one tournament in four seasons on Tour, took a moment to
reflect on his unlikely journey. "I think about those days of
stacking boxes all the time," he said from a Coral Springs
restaurant where, decked out in jeans as blue as his piercing
eyes, he sat inconspicuously, sipping a cup of coffee. "I don't
ever want to forget. It keeps me humble. It makes me work harder,
makes me cherish everything that I've accomplished."

On Sunday at the Honda, Durant nearly struck again. With
back-to-back birdies early in his round, he inched up to a tie
for fourth. This time, though, he ran out of putts, missing a
half-dozen birdie attempts of six feet or less. He settled for a
69 and a tie for fifth, a scant three strokes behind winner
Jesper Parnevik, not to mention an additional $121,600. "I was
tempted to run out there with my old Bulls Eye and start putting
for him," said Durant's wife, Tracey.

Don't laugh--that might've helped. Tracey was a Division II
All-America at Troy (Ala.) State, and she once beat her hubby
head-to-head, throwing a 68 at him. Before that she had been a
pixie with a big-time short game playing for the boys' team at
Tate High in Pensacola, Fla. Tate's crosstown rival was Escambia
High, where Durant was the top player. Joe had admired Tracey's
form since middle school, but it took him until the 11th grade to
work up the courage to ask her out. Tracey shot him down. As fate
would have it, Joe and Tracey wound up playing for small colleges
in Alabama that were within 45 minutes of each other. Huntingdon
College didn't have its own course, so Joe frequently made the
drive to Troy State, though he had more than golf on his mind. By
way of a first date he invited Tracey to watch one of his
tournaments, and they've been together ever since. "I was swept
off my feet by his ball striking," Tracey says in bone-dry tones.
They were married in April 1988.

Durant's superb long game carried him to the '87 NAIA
championship, and he turned pro shortly thereafter. Tracey, a
year younger, dropped out of school to help pay the bills,
working first as a salesperson in a clothing store, then doing
paperwork for a credit union. ("She could have made it to the
LPGA tour, if that's where her priorities had been," says Scott
Warzecha, a Montgomery, Ala., teaching pro who played alongside
Joe at Huntingdon.)

A perfectionist who insists on ironing his clothes before rounds,
Durant had trouble adjusting to the struggle of the cutthroat
mini-tours. His short game was deficient at best. "I hated
practicing my putting and chipping," he says. "That was because
a) I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and b) I stunk. It
would be like spending an hour practicing your tee shots--and
topping every single one."

The more he struggled on the greens, the more he worked on his
swing, adding extra coats of polish to his compact, rhythmic
action. The results were predictable, a lot of dazzling one-irons
and underwhelming scores. For three years Durant haunted every
podunk micromini in the Southeast before reaching the Ben Hogan
tour in '91. He won only $16,095 in 27 tournaments and at
season's end lost a seven-man playoff to determine who would
advance to the final stage of the PGA Tour's Q school. Hello,
Edwin Watts.

After his six-month cameo in the straight world, Durant couldn't
get back on a golf course fast enough. It was then that Tracey
"put the fear of God in me," he says. "She sat me down and said,
'Look, if you do not go out there with a better attitude, we're
not even going to do this.'"

Staked by a loan from her parents, Joe honed his craft on the
Nike tour, aided by the presence of his wife, who often caddied
for him. Durant finally busted loose in '96, winning the
Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic and finishing third on the Nike
money list, which shot him to the PGA Tour.

He began to come into his own during his sophomore season, in
'98. "I had the honor of leading the U.S. Open at Olympic for 12
holes during the first round," Durant says. (But who's counting?)
His confidence stoked, he won the next week at the Western Open,
trumping Vijay Singh in a Sunday shootout.

Success, though, didn't come without a struggle. On the way to
the '99 Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Durant cracked two ribs trying to
hoist one of Tracey's suitcases. ("Hey, it was Pebble," she says
apologetically. "All that layering weighs a lot.") Durant played
hurt the rest of the year, and it showed. Two months after
suffering the injury, he dragged himself to his first Masters.
Daintily swinging his wedges, Durant won the par-3 tournament on
Wednesday. The next day he hung up an 87 on the big course. "I
could feel his pain," says Hardin, who watched his old colleague
from the gallery. "Of course, Joe is such a nice fellow that when
I talked to him afterward, all he said was, 'Hey, how are things
down at the warehouse?'" For the year Durant would make only 13
of 26 cuts, plummeting to 157th on the money list.

Still bothered by the injury in early 2000, Durant got bageled on
the West Coast, missing the cut in all five of his appearances.
From this disastrous start he slowly refound his form, climbing
back to 76th on the season-ending money list. However, one of his
worst performances of the year is what set up his rampage in
2001. During the final round of the Reno-Tahoe Open, in late
August, Durant putted--and putted and putted--his way to an 83. A
few days later he was moping around the practice green at the Air
Canada Championship when he got some free advice from Arnie
Cunningham, a rep for SeeMore putters. Durant had always had a
pronounced forward press, striking his putts with a descending
blow, like someone trying to kill a mouse with a broom. At
Cunningham's urging Durant moved his hands back, straightening
his shaft and making his stroke more shallow. He closed the
season with a flurry, including a fifth at the Tampa Bay Classic,
his best finish since winning the Western. Durant was so
encouraged by his putting that he overhauled his chipping, too.
(Last Saturday at the Honda, Durant uncharacteristically hit only
12 greens, but he didn't make a bogey.)

Durant's full arsenal was unleashed at the Hope, at which he went
36 under to set the scoring record for a five-round event. While
this birdie binge was dismissed in some quarters as a fluke,
those close to Durant weren't surprised. "It was only a matter of
time," says Ron Gring, Durant's coach since the early '90s.
"There have been a dozen times that Joe could've shot those kind
of numbers if he had converted his opportunities. If he putts the
way he has been lately, he's frightening."

As shocking as Durant's coming-out party in the desert was, his
performance two weeks later at Doral might have been even more
impressive. Playing in a wind that gusted hard enough to send
palm fronds skittering across the fairways, Durant's final-round
65 was the best score of the day, and he stormed back from four
strokes down to become the Tour's only multiple winner this

In the wake of that victory Durant's quiet life was turned upside
down. When he checked his cell phone the next day, he had 23
messages, and he arrived at the Honda to discover his locker was
plastered with two-dozen congratulatory notes. Durant was so run
down by all the demands on his time that on Friday afternoon he
crashed for a three-hour power nap, and he didn't hit balls
following any of his rounds.

Durant had such a low profile coming into this season that he
still wears clothing adorned with the generic PGA TOUR logo, but
don't fret about how he'll handle fame and fortune. He and Tracey
have already dealt with the primary distraction of the Tour's
nouveau riche, the New House. For a year and a half they have
been planning their dream digs--not some ostentatious Isleworth
Xanadu but a simple country home on 20 acres north of Pensacola.
The accompanying barn has already gone up, to house Tracey's
Arabian, Junior. They plan to add more horses, for Connor, nine,
and her brother, Hayes, three. Dad has designs for a full-blown
practice facility, but for now he simply aims for the horizon and
shags the balls himself. For added ambiance Durant often cues up
the strains of his favorite band--Pink Floyd, of course.

Having brought his game back from the dark side of the moon,
Durant was in no position to pout about a fifth-place finish at
the Honda. "More points," he said, alluding to the Ryder Cup
standings. (He's eighth.) The Sept. 28-30 match at the Belfry has
become his primary goal for the year. Back at the warehouse in
Fort Walton Beach, some interested observers are charting his

"We're allowed to watch TV during the workday if it's
golf-related, being in the golf business and all," says Hardin.
"I keep an eye out for Joe. He's the type of person who would've
been successful wherever he went. If he had stayed with Edwin
Watts Golf, within six months he would have moved to a better
position in the warehouse. Six months after that he could have
looked forward to moving to our retail staff. After that, who
knows? With his work ethic and friendly manner, he very well
could've become a manager of one of our retail stores. Joe had a
bright future here."

As shocking as his coming-out party in the desert was, Durant's
performance at Doral might have been even more impressive.
"I was tempted to run out there with my old Bulls Eye and
start putting for him," Tracey said after watching Joe struggle
on Sunday.