I love that Chris is a professional golfer and support him wholeheartedly in his pursuit of the PGA Tour. Nevertheless, I usually avoid telling people what he does for a living. It’s not because I’m embarrassed or not proud of what he’s doing or what he has accomplished, but rather it tends to result in a laundry list of questions and I can hardly do the answers justice. Over the years there have been a handful of questions that come up almost every time I mention that Chris plays professional golf. The questions range from funny to rather invasive but they have all been asked of Chris or me more times than we can count. This is why I decided to put together a list of the most frequently asked questions, if not for the reader’s sake than at least for my own.
"What club does he teach at?"
Chris does not teach golf. Actually, I take that back. Chris does not teach golf unless I auction him off at a charity event for a 2 hour lesson. There are teaching/club pros, the guys who give lessons at a golf club or run the pro shop, and there are playing pros, the ones who are pursuing a career of playing golf for money. Chris falls into the latter group.
"Oh, what's his name? Maybe I've heard of him."
Unless you are an avid follower of the feeder tours (PGA Tour LatinoAmerica and Mackenzie Tour) or the mini tours, then you probably haven’t heard his name. I remember one time when I was living and working in Minneapolis, we had an intern who thought I was dating Jordan Spieth because my boyfriend lived in Dallas and was a professional golfer. Newsflash: I'm a little old for Jordan Spieth. And also, he is not the only professional golfer in Dallas. Texas is actually a huge hub for pros both on tour and those trying to make it. (No state income tax FTW!)
"Is Q-School hard? What are the classes like?"
This is an honest mistake; I mean they do call it "school" after all. But in actuality, Q-School, also known as qualifying school, is a series of four tournaments that take place every fall. For nearly all professional golfers, this is their one chance a year to earn a Web.com Tour card for the following season. The field of players gets progressively narrowed down at each stage of tournaments until those remaining meet at one tournament called Final Stage. Players who make it into the Final Stage tournament will earn a Web.com Tour Card. A tour card is essentially your spot on that tour (and yes, there is a physical card). Your rank at the final stage tournament will dictate the “value” of your card, or in other words how many starts you will actually get on the Web.com Tour. This means you could technically make it on tour but never get the chance to play in an actual event.
There are roughly 2000 guys registered for Q-School when it kicks off with pre-qualifying in September. By the time Final Stage rolls around in December there are only 200 guys remaining. Of those 200 guys, only 45 will earn a card with enough status to have guaranteed starts in Web.com Tour events. Also, did I mention that Q-School costs approximately $5000 just to enter, not including travel? This ensures that only the best players sign up who have a valid shot to make it on tour.
Now some of you might be asking, “What is this Web.com Tour? I’m just here to learn about making it on the PGA Tour.” Well a few years ago, this was also the path to the PGA Tour. The top 25 guys at Final Stage would earn their PGA Tour Card and the rest would have a spot on the Web.com Tour. Unfortunately, in 2013 the PGA Tour decided to change things up a bit. The only way to make it on the PGA Tour via Q-School now is by playing on the Web.com Tour and finishing top 25 on the money list for the year.
So to make a long story short, yes, Q-School is very hard.
"Do you make money doing that [playing pro golf]?"
That’s the goal but not always the case. Unless you’re on the PGA Tour or European Tour you probably aren’t making a consistent living. The only way you’re coming out ahead after golf and living expenses on the mini tours is with a couple of big wins. A win in a bigger mini tour event can earn you a paycheck ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 but golf expenses alone can be upwards of $40,000/year conservatively. Then you still have to think about everyday living expenses like housing, food, car, insurance, etc.
So the answer is yes, you can clearly make a lot of money playing professional golf. The caveat is do your earnings outweigh your expenses for any given year. At the end of the day, the guys grinding it out on the mini tours aren’t trying to make a lifelong career of it. Rather they are using it as a launch pad for a career on the PGA or European Tours where you can make some serious cash money.
"How does he pay for it?"
This answer differs for everyone and for us has changed over the course of our journey. I’m going to touch on some of the main ways that the mini tour guys pay for their golf. Most will use a combination of these methods and others to raise money.
- Caddying/Self-Funding: A lot of the guys trying to make it on tour will either caddy or work at a golf course part time to supplement their tournament winnings. The hours are flexible and if you can find a caddy gig at a good course you stand to make a decent amount of money. When Chris used to double bag at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota he could make upwards of $200 for a 4-hour round of golf.
- Investors: Another common approach is to find investors. Similar to buying a stock or a bond, investors will write up a contract where they will give the golfer a sum of money in exchange for a percentage of their earnings for the year. For example, if an investor puts $10,000 down for a 20% return, then he will only make his money back if the golfer wins $50,000 or more for that year. If the golfer has a really hot year, then the investor can stand to make quite a bit of money.
- Family and Friends: This is really the best support structure to have in such a stressful environment. These are the people that want to see you succeed as much as you do and have been there since day one.
- Go Fund Me: I’ve seen this one pop up on my Facebook newsfeed a couple times in the last year. If you haven’t heard of it, Go Fund Me is a popular crowd sourcing and fundraising website. Friends, family and strangers all have the ability to contribute on this website towards your campaign and can even do so anonymously.
These mini tour guys grind it out for years, often living below the poverty line in order to pursue a career on the PGA Tour. They use some of the money raising methods I’ve listed above to get by but they also make a ton of sacrifices in their daily life. They might rent out a room or even a couch from a buddy, cook inexpensive meals when they aren’t on the road, and drink Miller Lite over the $10 craft brew 6-pack. We even have one friend who borrows his parents’ camper and lives in a trailer park. At the end of the day, all the sacrifices are worth it to make it on tour.
"So how long are you [is he] going to do 'this'?"
If I’m being honest, this question has always bothered me. People have been asking us this question since day 1 of Chris turning pro and the answer hasn’t changed. For some, this question feels more like they’ve already counted us out because we either didn’t make it on their timeline or they are just plain negative. What they are really asking (and sometimes say directly) is “when are you going to get a real job?” To answer their question, hopefully never. We will continue to pursue the PGA Tour until we make it.
For others, this question just stems from pure curiosity in the process. They want to know how long it generally takes for someone to either make it on tour or call it quits. This question I don’t mind answering. Most golfers peak around age 30-35 so if you’re not giving yourself until at least your early-30s you may be selling yourself short. There are plenty of household names who never made it on the PGA Tour until much later in life. For example, it took former world #1 golfer, Tom Lehman, 10 years as a professional to make it onto the PGA Tour full time.
If you made it this far I want to thank you for reading! Let us know if we missed any of your questions by commenting on the blog, Instagram, Facebook or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.