(The following article first appeared in the July 2012 edition of Golf Canada magazine)
David Hearn has heard all of golf ’s mini tour horror stories. Canada’s top-ranked golfer knows all about the minor leagues, having come through the Canadian and Asian Tours, spending six seasons on the triple-A Web.com Tour (formerly the Nationwide Tour) before working his way back to the PGA Tour for a second time last year, and retaining those playing privileges for 2012.
Hearn lived the long road trips, once driving from Florida to Houston, to Phoenix and back. The 32-year-old from Brantford, Ont. has heard all about young professional golfers sleeping on couches, or living out of their cars.
Adam Hadwin has heard the same stories of barely surviving the path to golfing glory.
Billed as Canada’s next big thing after a spectacular 2011 that included a tie for fourth at his hometown Canadian Open in Vancouver and $440,752 in earnings through just five events to almost earn a PGA Tour card off sponsor exemptions, Hadwin saw some of it first hand during two seasons on the Canadian Tour. You know – players scrambling just to make it to the next event, or loading up on bananas at the first tee because that’s all they had to eat for the day.
Jon Mills, who has two seasons on the PGA Tour amid seven on the Web.com Tour, is also familiar with the survival stories and long road trips associated with life in golf’s minor leagues. Another Ontario native, Mills, who ruined clothes driving a beat up Neon without air conditioning through steamy American Midwest summers, remembers playing with a guy at a Canadian Tour event by day, then seeing him tending a bar later that night, and hearing nightmares about mini tours where organizers took off before winnings were paid out.
Yes, Hearn, Hadwin, and Mills have that in common. They’ve heard all the tales about life at the lower levels of pro golf. They’ve lived them. Thankfully for them though, they don’t see it as such a bad thing.
“The hardship story is overplayed,” says Hearn, who won almost $900,000 last year and only retained his card by five places on the money list. “It’s a challenge but most good players like a challenge and that’s part of developing – getting used to the challenge.”
Hearn acknowledged how hard it can be financially when young golfers are starting out, but added that the majority of professional golfers have to go through it, and start on lower developmental tours.
“The hardest part is the unknown of what comes next, but I always liked the opportunity,” he says. “I never thought of it as a negative. It shows you who you are as a player, that’s for sure.”
Hearn pointed out that the tough times in the minor league are all about perspective. Driving for days at a time and searching out the cheapest possible hotel may seem like a tough existence when compared to the PGA Tour perch of luxury courtesy cars and country club dining, but it was no big deal coming straight out of college, eager to start a golf career.
“You’ve got to look at it like you’re 21 years old when you get out of college and get on Tour,” he says. “You don’t have money to begin with. I never looked at it as a hardship, I just looked at it as part of the journey. I think people go through a lot more hardships than that. Besides, it’s a choice. It’s not like someone told me that’s what I had to do.”
If there’s a common thread among Hearn, Hadwin, and Mills’ memories of the early years – and Hadwin, in just his third full season and playing the Web.com Tour, is admittedly just getting started – it’s in avoiding some of the worst stories. The tales of guys shaking over five-foot par putts on a Friday knowing that they might not have enough gas money to get to the tour’s the next stop if they didn’t make the cut that week.