(KMOX) – Perhaps the most endangered species in men’s golf is the career amateur player. It is almost a rule that any player of merit who has completed their college eligibility feels compelled to pay for play and chase the dream of the PGA Tour. The thought popped up this past weekend as I dropped by the final of the Metropolitan’s Old Warson Cup (nee Taylor Cup, nee Match Play Championship).
The final match featured Loyola University senior Alex Cusamano (yes, that Cusamano family) and Phil Caravia. A year ago I asked Alex’s father, Frank, if it was a given that Alex would turn professional following his senior season. While non-committal in his response the KSDK sports anchor was tilting heavily toward a professional run.
For more than forty years of high school coaching and eventually golf reporting I have seen player after player leap into the professional pool, and with a rare exception, spend their Twenties trying to become the next Jordan Spieth with no positive outcome. Realizing you can never become the “next” anybody without trying, I would argue that career choices such as this should involve a time frame and a plan B.
I would also offer another circumstance that should influence the initial decision to surrender amateur status. If a player isn’t consistently beating everybody else in this area, why would that player think that magically they could beat elite young talent from regions of the country that have a history of churning out Tour success stories.
Let me give you the off the cuff list of all the players from this side of the river who have in my time frame successfully navigated their way onto the PGA Tour – Jay Delsing, Jay Williamson and Scott Langley. Have I overlooked someone? I am excluding the Haas brothers as Illinois residents, but even with their names added to the roster, that makes five in 45 years.
At Augusta I had this conversation with Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle. Gary seemed an ideal sounding board. As a player he is among the best in the golf media. As a media member he has seen them all pop up on Tour and disappear. As a father he is watching his own son Mike chase the dream.
Mike was a nationally acclaimed golfer at Marquette; a Bryon Nelson Award winner; a first team All- American; a member of the USGA National Team Champions from Pennsylvania at St. Albans. Mike had PGA Tour in his genes but hasn’t yet been able to crack the code.
When I asked Gary about a “Plan B” he said until Mike had two healthy years to play and fail he thought the dream should stay alive. How many Mike Van Sickle’s has this area seen come out of the junior ranks? Langley, Delsing and not even late bloomer Jay Williamson.
Years ago I had a player who had the complete package of skills coming out of high school. He played college golf while getting his education at the University of Tampa. He made the choice to try his career as a professional competing on the satellite tours in Florida. He was in the field with players such as Mark Calcavecchia and Paul Azinger. All trying to live the dream. My player was Bob Beckmann.
Bob and I had a conversation a few short years after he had turned pro. Bob had golf talents better than many his age who had made it onto the Tour, but it wasn’t happening for Bob for whatever reason. But Bob always had a life vest he carried into the professional ranks. Bob had his college education and the wisdom to know when enough was enough.
Bob pulled the plug soon enough to use his business degree to start a career that has carried him through the ranks of the financial world. You can hear Bob most afternoons on KMOX doing the market wrap-ups in the news during afternoon drive. He is a senior vice president for Stifel Nicolaus.
Bob regained his amateur status young enough to take his golf repertoire to the tee in amateur events locally. He owns the local equivalent of the amateur slam – the District Championship, the Missouri Amateur Championship and the Metropolitan Amateur Championship.
In my world Bob is a success in the game and in life. I thought about Bob on Sunday at Old Warson as I watched Phil Caravia pick up his first ever title in this area after twenty years of banging his head against the wall. He knocked off collegians in both his semifinal and final matches and celebrated with family and friends afterwards. Caravia knew he would be back at Norwood later in the week with his regular game. He knew he would sleep in his own bed that night. And he told me afterwards he had no regrets that he never tried to make it as a pro.
Career amateur in men’s golf may be an endangered species but I have never met one with any regrets.
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