THE JOURNEY BEFORE "THE PUTT"

THE JOURNEY BEFORE "THE PUTT"

From Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul The Second Round

The Journey Before “the Putt”

Golf is the hardest game in the world. There’s no way you can ever get it. Just when you think you do, the game jumps up and puts you in your place.

Ben Crenshaw

A bizarre putt at qualifying school symbolizes Joe Daley’s road to the PGA Tour.

On the fourth day of Q school, with two rounds to play, Joe Daley was 16 under par and moving with the leaders. “Cruisin’ along, ” he says.

His 17th hole that day was a 158-yard par-3 into the wind. When his playing partner’s 8-iron shot dropped on the green’s front edge, Daley went up a club. “I wanted to hit a smooth 7, but I came over it and pulled it into the water, ” he says.

From the drop area, 72 yards away, he put a sand-wedge shot 18 feet behind the hole.

His first putt rolled four feet past. The putt coming back was simple. He thought, Left center.

The Journey

It was her birthday, in the spring of 1991, and the Atlantic Ocean moved over her feet, for after dinner they walked on the Virginia beach. Joe Daley had the ring in a box hidden in his sock.

“Come over here, ” he said to Carol, and he handed her the ring, and she said, “What does this mean?”

He said, “What do you mean, ‘What does this mean’?”

She waited.

“Oh, ” he said, “I have to say it?”

She waited.

“Carol, will you marry me?”

“Yes.”

He said, “But you do know, don’t you, what I want to do?”

“Yes.”

He wanted to chase the dream.

She wanted to chase it with him.

And what a dream at what a time. Some men his age had already given it up. He was thirty. He had been a wholesale credit manager since graduation from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He played golf, as he had in school, and now and then friends would remind him he could really play, as during a pro-am when he watched PGA Tour players.

“They’d ask, ‘Why aren’t you out here with these guys?’” Daley said.

So the newlyweds hit the road. They went to Florida, where she worked as a teacher and he worked on his game, moonlighting as a banquet waiter to help pay the bills. Slowly they saved fifty-five hundred dollars; they tried not to spend it quickly. “A big night out, ” Carol says, “was pizza once a week.”

The Putt

If you’re a professional golfer forty years old, as Joe Daley was on that day in December, you’ve knocked in tens of thousands of four-footers. Still, four days into Q school, you grind on those putts, because if you miss them you can be a dreamer, lover, husband and banquet waiter, but you cannot be a professional golfer.

Left Center

For years Daley carried with him a putting-practice gizmo, a cup liner that reduced the regulation hole opening by an inch. Heaven only knows how many hours on how many putting greens in how many countries he stood hunched over putts just like this four-footer.

Of 169 players in the final-stage field, 36 would qualify for the 2001 PGA Tour. The next 51 would go to the Buy.com Tour that, nice as it is—and it’s maybe the third-best tour in the world—is the minor leagues.

It’s the Dakota Dunes Open.

It’s the dream deferred.

Daley had played well all week at La Quinta’s PGA West Jack Nicklaus courses, starting with a 65. Now, a four-footer. Left center.

The Journey

Crisscrossing North America for two years and more, Joe Daley, six-foot-three and 159 pounds, folded himself into a tiny Nissan 200SX and drove 200, 000 miles. The Canadian tour in 1992. Florida mini-tour events in ’93.

Chile, South Africa, Bermuda, Jamaica in ’94 and ’95. “It’s not nine-to-five, forty-eight weeks a year, ” Daley says. “I had that for ten years. I know what that’s about. We could have that now. We could have the two jobs, the stability, the house. But this is a lot more fun and a lot more rewarding. It’s the unknown. It’s an adventure.”

Says Carol: “My friends in teaching, when I told them I was going to Florida with Joe, said, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ Well, now they’re still teaching, and I’ve been all over the world.”

Twice he qualified for the PGA Tour, first in ’96 and again two years later, but failed to play well enough long enough to stay. “Such commotion out there, ” he says. “So many people, so much happening.” One journalist described Daley in those years as “a kid in a candy store, ” changing equipment, playing too many pro-ams, listening to too much well-intentioned advice.

Daley saw Tiger Woods make the first hole-in-one of his pro career. He shared a first-round lead with Greg Norman (a headline began, “Norman, unknown Joe Daley . . .”). He tied for sixth in the B.C. Open. In two years in the big leagues, Daley earned $138, 379. He came to a harsh realization: “My swing needed work, big-time. I’d developed movement that I didn’t need. It looked like Jim Furyk’s.”

While working with an Old Dominion teammate, John Hulbert, to reshape his swing, Daley lost even his Buy.com card. He already was an old man on a young man’s journey. Asked by Toronto sportswriter John Gordon if he thought his time had come and gone, Daley said, “There’s no quit in Joe Daley.”

He made nine straight Buy.com cuts in 2000, had five top-five finishes and, with $151, 233, finished twenty-third on the money list, good enough to earn a spot in the final PGA Tour Qualifying School.

The Putt

He needed to hit the four-foot putt firmly, left center. He hit it just that way on just that line. It was in. It disappeared.

Some images are processed by the brain so quickly that even as we move our eyes away, even before we can say what that image is, we realize we’ve seen something. Reflexively, our eyes leaving the image snap back to it. We want to know what that something is. Joe Daley saw something and looked again and knew what it was and had no idea how it could be his ball. But there it was, perched on the near edge, as if it had stopped there.

That couldn’t be. He’d seen it roll over that very spot and disappear. It hadn’t caught the lip and spun out. It fell over the front edge of the cup and into the darkness.

He’d made the putt. Hadn’t he? Well, no.

“It came back out towards me, ” he says. He glared at the thing. He hurled his cap to the ground. “It was the damndest thing I had ever seen, ” Daley told reporters that day.

His ball had bounced out of the hole after hitting the top edge of the cup liner. By rule, the liner is to be set at least an inch beneath the green surface. In Daley’s case, the liner sat crookedly in the hole, probably jerked away with the flagstick.

“I asked a tour official about it, but he said there was nothing he could do about it, ” Daley says. So he made a triple-bogey 6, one stroke lost to bad luck. He played the last thirty-seven holes 1 under par. Doing that good work under such pressure, the lost stroke couldn’t hurt him that much.

Could it?

The Journey

It could. Thirty-six players at 417 or better qualified for the 2001 PGA Tour. Joe Daley shot 418. He’d rather have shot 417, but he’s a grown-up and he knows things happen.

“It’s the journey that matters, not one putt. Hey, on that same hole the last day, I made a thirty-foot downhiller with a foot-and-a-half break, ” he says. “I’m a lucky man. I’m doing what I want to do, my wife is traveling with me and we’re having fun. That one putt is just a bump in the road.”

Again this summer, then, Joe and Carol Daley will be on the Buy.com road, and if history suggests the future, there’ll come a day when they’re in the middle of nowhere, cruisin’ along, and they’ll answer to a voice that says . . .

Sky diving?

After Daley missed a Buy.com cut in 1999, he and his wife were en route from North Carolina to Virginia. “I thought we needed a diversion, ” Carol says. “So we stopped at a friend’s who said, ‘I know, how about I take you skydiving?’”

She’d been fly-fishing in Idaho, hiking in Colorado, dancing in Morocco, all with her dreamer who didn’t know what to say on that Virginia beach. Now she has thrown herself from a plane and lived to laugh about it.

“Who knows, ” she says, “what’s going to be next?”

Dave Kindred

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