Q School Surprise
This is an article from the Dec. 10, 2001 issue
Six hundred miles from home, the country boy pulled into the
parking lot at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.,
and marveled that he'd completed the journey. "Wow, I made it,"
Thomas (Boo) Weekley said with a smile. "I'm here. I'm finally
Weekley, a 28-year-old career mini-tour player from Milton, Fla.
(pop. 8,000), was too naive to know that you're not supposed to
sound excited when you show up for the six-round death march
that is the Q school final. Only the top 35 (as well as anyone
who tied for 35th) out of last week's 167-player field would
earn PGA Tour cards for 2002, and the pressure was so unsettling
that at one point teen phenom Ty Tryon was guzzling Maalox.
In this overheated environment the happy-go-lucky Weekley was
the event's most unlikely success story. A PG-rated version of
John Daly, only frumpier, Weekley rubs his gut while standing on
the tee box for good luck and, owing to his ever-present pinch
of chewing tobacco, spews spittle on the course. Because of his
extra-wide feet, Weekley eschews golf shoes in favor of chunky
sneakers, and an itchy skin condition on his right leg compels
him to wear baggy rainpants instead of trousers.
For all of his idiosyncrasies, Weekley blended in nicely with an
opening-round 66 that tied for the lead. "I ain't nervous," he
said. "I ain't never been here, so I don't know what to feel."
Oblivious of the Tour code that a player must bang balls until
the sun sets, Weekley rushed straight to T.G.I. Friday's after
signing his scorecard each day, and by the time everyone else
was leaving the course, he was at the Comfort Inn playing
solitaire on his laptop.
Weekley took up golf when he was 15 after injuring his left
rotator cuff while pitching for Milton High. Ambidextrous and
self-taught, he began playing golf as a left-hander, but after
shanking a ball off his high school coach, he went righty.
Weekley studied turfgrass management for 1 1/2 years at Abraham
Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., but left because,
he says, "I ain't liking school much." He took odd jobs picking
cotton and soybeans on his grandfather's 1,000-acre farm in
Milton and spent three years earning $8.50 an hour as a hydro
blaster for a chemical plant.
While his childhood friend Heath Slocum was preparing for a pro
career, Weekley spent his spare time turkey or deer hunting
after work and sleeping in the back of his truck. "All of us
thought he had enough talent to play on Tour," says Jerry
Driggers, Weekley's golfing buddy back home at Tanglewood
Country Club. "It was hard to convince him. He thought he wasn't
worldly enough. He's never been to New York or Chicago. He
feared big towns and thought good players came only from them."
Weekley played the mini-tours for the past four years, winning
26 times and building the confidence to return to Q school after
two failed tries. During Monday's final round Weekley chipped in
twice to key a clutch 69, which pushed him to 18 under and a tie
for 23rd. When the final putt dropped, he hugged his caddie,
Jack Slocum (Heath's father), high-fived his manager and began
an hourlong whirlwind of being pursued by glad-handing
reporters, job-seeking caddies and equipment representatives.
"This is unreal," a giddy Weekley said. "I could use a beer."
Alone at last, Weekley called his wife, Karyn, who had monitored
the tournament in Milton at the family-owned Weekley Pharmacy.
"I didn't know whether to cry or scream or set the course on
fire," he said into the phone. "Can you imagine? They all think
I'm some good ol' country boy. Next year I'm going to show up as
the big-time city boy." --Yi-Wyn Yen
Finally Having a Senior Moment
When Judy Eller Street arrived at the Doral Resort for her first
college tournament in 40 years carrying her own clubs, she
inspired a passerby to wish her team good luck. "He thought I
was the coach," she says with a laugh. At 61 Eller Street is a
senior golfer--and a senior on the women's team at Barry
University, a Division II Catholic school in Miami Shores, Fla.
The name Judy Eller may be familiar. She won the U.S. Junior in
1957 and '58 and was on the team for three years at Miami, for
which she was the NCAA champion in '59. A year later Eller
Street joined future LPGA Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner and future
USGA president Judy Bell on the American team that won the
Eller married Gordon Street Jr. in 1961, and she played amateur
golf until age 29, when she quit to raise children (three
daughters and a son). Her return to golf, like her return to
college, was accidental. Last year she attended Barry's athletic
awards banquet, at which a friend introduced her to Buccaneers
golf coach Roger White and jokingly said that Eller Street still
had some eligibility. "It started from there," says White. Barry
officials discovered that Eller Street had four semesters of
eligibility remaining for Division II play. Once she decided to
join the Buccaneers, Eller Street hired a personal trainer and
went to see her old pal Carner for help with her swing. "Judy
has always had talent," Carner says. "I knew if she dedicated
herself, she could do this. I just told her to dye her hair."
Eller Street has shown signs of youth. In her second tournament,
the Grenelefe Invitational in Haines City, Fla. in October, she
shot 88-89 in the first two rounds but rebounded by closing with
a 75--the low round of the day--and finished 11th. "That was the
first time I felt, Gee, I can compete," Eller Street says. "It
was like being young again." In eight tournament rounds this
fall she has an 84.6 stroke average.
Two quarters shy of a liberal studies degree, Eller Street is
adjusting to being a student-athlete. Recently, on the first day
of the Pat Bradley Invitational in Miami, she carried her bag
for 36 holes, then drove 25 miles back to the Barry campus to
take a literature exam. Early the next morning she was back on
the course for the tournament's final 18 holes. "She was right
there with all the kids," says White. "She's an inspiration."
This season Tiger Woods slammed, Annika Sorenstam shot 59, and
everyone hit 300-yard drives, but 2001 will be best remembered
as the year the bubble burst. The Sept. 11 attacks and a
recession stopped the expansion of pro golf, and no amount of
spin can turn the recently announced contractions of the LPGA
and Senior tours into positive signs.
What do these players have in common?
--Tommy Armour III
Of the 15 players at last week's Q school final who had won a
Tour event, they were the only ones to earn a card for 2002.
Who is golf's player of the year: Annika Sorenstam or Tiger
--Based on 5,710 responses to our informal survey
Next question: What was the biggest story of the year: the
switch to solid-core balls, Sorenstam's 59, the Tiger Slam,
Woods's purported slump, the Senior tour's shrinking profile or
the postponement of the Ryder Cup? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
We keep hearing about how much farther PGA Tour players hit the
ball now than they did in 1980, when the Tour began keeping
track of statistics, but in fact the pros have made a much
bigger improvement in a less glamorous aspect of the game--
bunker play. Here are the Tour averages for the six main
statistical categories for 1980 and for 2001.
1980 2001 % UPGRADE
Sand Saves 43.2% 51.4% 19.0%
Drive Distance 256.9 279.4 8.8%
Drive Accuracy 63.2% 68.6% 8.5%
GIR 64.7% 66.5% 2.8%
Putts Per Rnd. 29.89 29.06 2.8%
Scoring Avg. 72.15 71.14 1.4%