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Badge Of Honor At the Sony Open, the Tour's newly minted members kicked off what they're sure will be a special season

Jan. 21, 2002
Jan. 21, 2002

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Jan. 21, 2002

Catching Up With...

Badge Of Honor At the Sony Open, the Tour's newly minted members kicked off what they're sure will be a special season

Happiness is knowing that your life is moving in the right
direction. That's not an aphorism; it's a conclusion drawn last
week from the unerasable smile of Boo Weekley, a 28-year-old pro
from the Florida panhandle town of Milton. Seven years ago
Weekley would put on a hard hat with a built-in flashlight,
strap himself into a harness and be lowered on a rope by
coworkers into the hot, dark confines of steel chemical tanks,
where he scoured the walls with a hydroblaster. Last week, by
way of contrast, Weekley started his work days with a walk on
the beach at Waikiki. At day's end, after a round of golf and
press interviews at nearby Waialae Country Club, he returned
with his wife, Karyn, to a hibiscus-scented room at the Royal
Hawaiian Hotel. "It's kind of different," Boo said. "I've never
slept in nothing that costs $600, or whatever that room is."

This is an article from the Jan. 21, 2002 issue Original Layout

Weekley's sense of displacement may have been extreme--when
you've worked as the human equivalent of gum at the end of a
stick, any job change feels like a promotion--but in most ways
he was like any other PGA Tour rookie: excited, tentative and a
little lost. The Sony Open was the first full-field tournament
of the year, so it resembled registration day at Hogwarts
School. Each player had a shiny new bronze belt clip with his
name on it, proof that he was a Tour member in good standing.
But some players looked at their clips more often than others,
and some reflexively felt for the clip on their belts, as if
afraid of pickpockets. Tour membership is not easily attained,
nor is it easy to retain. At Waialae only 79 pros in the 144-man
field were Tour members by dint of a top 125 finish on the 2001
money list. Thirty-four others had earned their Tour cards by
finishing among the top 36 at last fall's PGA Tour Qualifying
Tournament--a.k.a. Q school--in West Palm Beach, Fla. Fifteen
more qualified off the final money list of the Buy.com tour.

Some new players were about as new as Newton. Blaine
McCallister, 43, played his first Tour event in 1982 and has
five Tour wins. Tommy Armour III, 42, first got his Tour card in
'81. Others were international players who were rookies in name
only. Hidemichi Tanaka has 15 wins on the Japanese tour and has
played well in major championships. Peter Lonard was the leading
money winner on the Australasian tour in 1996-97. You could spot
these veterans by their self-assured strides and the fact that
they didn't walk on the wrong side of gallery ropes or pull on
door handles labeled PUSH.

The genuine newbies tried to look cool, but betrayed their
inexperience with birdlike jerks of the head as they attempted
to find their way around Waialae. "There's a lot of anxiety,"
said Ian Leggatt, a rookie in 2001 who returned to Q school in
the fall. "You don't know where to park; there's pressure to get
in a practice round. I got lost a few times last year." Ben
Crane, a promising newcomer with two Buy.com wins, left his
player's clip in his hotel room on Jan. 9. "How the hell did you
get in without a clip?" asked fellow rookie Pat Perez. Crane
shrugged and said, "I just sort of walked in."

Actually, Crane had opened his wallet and pulled out his Tour
identification card, a rarely seen piece of plastic with his
picture on it. Even some Tour officials aren't sure if this card
is the so-called Tour card that players are so desperate to have
and hold. "The clip is what they all use," said Joel Schuchmann,
a media official. "I've never even seen the card."

Whether it's a clip or a card, it's the stuff that dreams are
made of. Ask Stephen Gangluff, a 26-year-old first-year man from
Staunton, Va. As recently as nine months ago Gangluff worked as
a $6-an-hour bag boy at the Wintergreen (Va.) Resort. "I was
sick of paying to play the mini-tours, worn out, and I didn't
have any sponsors," Gangluff said. "I figured I had better go to
work." In April, however, he got through Monday qualifying at
the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic and shot four rounds of
par or better, winning $14,365. He later qualified for the U.S.
Open in Tulsa, where he finished 79th and earned another eight
grand. Finally Gangluff went to Q school, finished 32nd,
pocketed $25,000 and got his Tour card. "It's amazing," he said
at Waialae. "Overwhelming."

Another newcomer, Kent Jones, 35, of Albuquerque, followed a
long and winding road to the Tour. In the mid-1990s he and his
wife, JoAnna, and a mutt named Lexy traveled the Canadian and
Hooters tours with a fifth-wheel RV attached to their pickup
truck. "We drove in caravans and stayed at campgrounds," said
Jones, who has since yo-yoed between the PGA and Buy.com tours.
"It was a great experience, but everything on this Tour is
bigger and better, and it's an opportunity to play for a lot
more money."

For pure story value, though, no one topped Thomas Brent (Boo)
Weekley, whose backwoods locutions and wide-eyed naivete invite
comparisons with Gomer Pyle. At a banquet in December, after he
had won his Tour card at Q school, Weekley chatted with Tour
commissioner Tim Finchem. Afterward Boo asked who the nice man
was. Told that Finchem was the commissioner, Boo said, "Yeah? Of
what?" When he isn't hitting the ball high and far, Boo offers
to help at Weekley Pharmacy, his father's drugstore in Milton.
But Karyn says Boo isn't exactly a natural at the cash register.
"We pretty much tell him to leave, because he causes such a
stir," she said at Waialae. "It makes his dad mad, and none of
us gets anything done."

Weekley began his Tour career last Thursday with a snap hook off
the 10th tee--"I thought I done killed somebody," he said--and
he misclubbed so often in the high winds that he shot a
six-over-par 76 despite an eagle on the final hole. He bounced
back with a 67 on Friday. That wasn't good enough to survive the
36-hole cut, but it reminded everyone that he got to Honolulu on
game. "He's no joke," said Phil Tataurangi, a New Zealander with
seven years of Tour experience. "If you get through Q school,
you've got the goods to play out here."

Every class has its standouts, and anybody who can read a
pairing sheet expects big things from Heath Slocum, Pat Bates
and Chad Campbell, who each won three Buy.com tournaments in
2001. Slocum, a high school teammate of Weekley's, set a Buy.com
record of 106 consecutive holes without a bogey last year, and
in one three-week stretch he went 21, 23 and 23 under par.
("Boo's an extrovert, and I'm an introvert," says Slocum, who
plans to travel with his colorful pal this season.) Bates, a
lively 32-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., with shoulder-length
blond hair and a habit of writing Bible verses on his golf balls
for identification purposes, was the only player to shoot four
rounds of par or better at last year's Buy.com Tour
Championship, which he won by three strokes. As for Campbell,
who hails from Dallas, if his No. 1 ranking on the Buy.com tour
didn't convince people that he can play, his second-place finish
in November at the PGA Tour's Southern Farm Bureau Classic did.

"His iron shots are solid, right in the middle of the club face,
and he seems to be about six to eight feet from the hole a lot,"
said former Hawaiian Open champ David Ishii, who played with
Campbell for two rounds last week and watched the stocky Texan
shoot 71-65. "It looks so easy, the way he plays."

Other rookies brought solid credentials to Honolulu. Luke
Donald, a 24-year-old Englishman who graduated last year from
Northwestern, is a former NCAA champ. Kenneth Staton, an
All-America at Florida State, is a six-time winner on the
Canadian tour. Jonathan Byrd, whom Slocum calls "an unbelievable
talent," had three All-America seasons at Clemson, played on the
1999 U.S. Walker Cup team and won a Buy.com event in 2001. "Last
year only 16 of the 56 new guys kept their cards," said Crane,
"but I don't see how that's possible this year. There are too
many good players."

If there's a problem for the new guys, it's recognizing that pro
golf is a business--palm trees and luaus notwithstanding. To
help them, the Tour gives every rookie a laptop computer and a
handheld loaded with Tour software. In training sessions last
week at the Sheraton Waikiki, the players learned how to
communicate with Tour officials on the Internet, check their tee
times, make commitments to future tournaments, find the nearest
Starbucks and fill out expense reports. ("Miscellaneous,"
software trainer Rachel Graham explained to Bates. "That's where
you put in what you pay for haircuts." Bates, giving Graham a
baleful look from under his surferlike mane, said, "Haircuts,
yeah.") Back at the course, the players tended to business, but
not the briefcase-and-spreadsheet kind. "We're entertainers,"
said Byrd. "We get dressed up and try to please the crowd with
straight shots."

At the Sony the straightest shooters among the newcomers were
Donald and Brad Elder, who tied for 13th, six shots behind winner
Jerry Kelly, and won $75,000. Bates, Crane and Gangluff missed
the cut by a stroke, Jones by two, Weekley by three and Slocum by
four. None were too disappointed, though, and Weekley, who also
has a bit of Forrest Gump in him, said, "Whatever happens,
happens. It's already written in the stars."

Of course for Boo--who was in the tank and at the end of his rope
not that long ago--it's a thrill just to see the stars.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Gold pass Show us your Tour clip (or card), members of the class of 2002: 1. Danny Ellis; 2. Pat Perez; 3. Ben Crane; 4. Michael Allen; 5. Boo Weekley; 6. Peter Lonard; 7. Jess Daley; 8. Ian Leggatt; 9. John Senden; 10. Brad Elder; 11. Phil Tataurangi; 12. Kent Jones; 13. Stephen Allan; 14. Pete Jordan; 15. Luke Donald; 16. Shaun Micheel; 17. Eduardo Herrera; 18. Bob Burns.THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Class acts Campbell (above) dominated the Buy.com tour, and Donald (right) won an NCAA title, but Weekley, a mini-tour veteran from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, is the fans' favorite rookie.
"Last year only 16 of the 56 new guys kept their cards," said
Crane, "but I don't see how that's possible this year. There are
too many good players."