LA JOLLA, Calif. The phone rang in Bill Lunde's office three years ago. Well, it wasn't exactly his office. It wasn't even a cubicle. It was an open area workspace that Lunde shared with others at the Las Vegas Founders, the organization that runs the Las Vegas PGA Tour stop.
The phone ringing was an event in itself for a sales guy like Lunde, who spent his day working the phones and making cold calls. "It was always kind of fun when my phone rang," Lunde said, "because no one ever called me."
This time, Chad Campbell was on the line. Campbell is a PGA Tour star and a former teammate of Lunde's on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas golf team. Lunde was captain of the 1998 squad that won the NCAA championship (Campbell had already moved on) but had given up on playing pro golf in 2005 after two disappointing years on the Nationwide Tour and a failed attempt at Q-school. So Campbell's initial question to his ex-teammate was the obvious one: "Bill, what are you doing?"
Lunde answered that he was sitting in his office. Campbell laughed at the thought. So did Lunde. Then Campbell caught himself and said, "I'm sorry." Lunde said, no, it's funny to me, too, that I'm sitting in an office. "It was bizarre when friends called," said Lunde. "It was always awkward. It never felt like that was what I should be doing."
Three years later, Lunde has come full circle and is back to what he should be doing playing golf at the highest level. He is teeing it up in this week's Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, a big thrill because he's a local hero he's from Poway, an inland suburb just northeast of San Diego. Eighteen months out of golf and a taste of the real world in business (it ended with him getting laid off during a real-estate decline) gave him a needed new perspective on the game that was driving him crazy.
He enjoyed a good year on the Nationwide Tour in 2008, winning once and racking up more than $340,000 in earnings, and now he's a rookie on the PGA Tour. He follows in the footsteps of other Tour players who tried jobs in the real world and were drawn back to golf, like Scott McCarron and Joe Durant.
"For whatever reason, I got led back to golf and here I am," said Lunde, 33, who lives in Las Vegas near childhood pal and fellow Tour player Charley Hoffman. "I'm blessed for the opportunity. The success I've had the last two years has been wonderful."
This week is going to be especially sweet. Lunde remembers walking the slopes at Torrey Pines as a kid attending this tournament back in the days when singer Andy Williams had his name attached to it. He still recalls the time he was perched by the fifth green on the South Course with his grandfather, and golfer Fuzzy Zoeller handed him his golf ball as he left the green.
"When you're eight years old, that's like the greatest thing in the world," Lunde said. "You think they just handed you a gold brick."
Lunde plans to repay that favor this week to another youngster. "Hopefully it feels the same," he said, "even though there's a good chance he might not know who I am."
Without that dose of reality in the working world, Lunde probably wouldn't be on the Tour now. He struggled with his game for two years on the Nationwide Tour and it affected his attitude. He grew to hate the travel, the gypsy life, the hotels. Golf isn't fun when you're not playing the way you know you can. It reached a point, he admitted, that he could barely make himself practice for half an hour on the range before he'd lose patience.
"I needed a break, no question," he said. "I was miserable to be around."
He didn't make it through the 2005 Q-school, he said, because of his disinterested attitude, so he decided to move on with his life. That proved to be an eye-opener for someone who had done nothing but golf since college.
"When it came time for me to look for a job, I really had no clue," Lunde said. "My wife works and I said, 'Honey, you have a job. How did you get that?' She said, well, just start calling everybody you know."
That's how he ended up with the Founders, at first. The contacts he made on the job there in ten months led him to a gig in the title business. "It seemed like a nice break, a chance to really build a career," he said. "The company was doing well, the market was doing well. I was kind of excited about that. Then when the market started to tank, my buddy who brought me in said, 'You're going to be the first to go, I just want to let you know.' That's kind of how I fell back into golf.
"Things happen for a reason. Obviously, I don't think the economy tanked in order for me to play golf, but I enjoy it much more now and don't take anything for granted like I did before. I have a new appreciation for the game. I really embrace what we do day in and day out now. Before, I beat myself up a lot. Now that I know what the alternative is, I'm OK with hitting a bad shot as long as it doesn't hit anybody."
His comeback began in May of 2007 on the now defunct Butch Harmon Tour in Las Vegas, where he won his first event. He made it to the Nationwide Tour via Q-school at the end of the year, missing a trip to the PGA Tour by two shots. In 2008, he scored his first Nationwide win when he chipped in on the last hole to win at Ohio State University's Scarlet Course.
Lunde's comeback story is just getting started. He played well at the Bob Hope Desert Classic two weeks ago, shooting 62 in the third round. He was on the first page of the leaderboard when he went to the 72nd hole, a par 5 over water, and had a chance for a great finish. "If I make birdie, I finish tied for third, a great start to the year," Lunde said.
However, his 4-iron second shot missed the green and bounced into the water. "It still wasn't that big of a deal because I was up the green and could get up and down to salvage par," he said.
It became a big deal when he played a nice pitch to four feet, then shockingly three-putted for a double bogey. The second putt, he reckoned, was 18 inches, maybe less. He didn't rush it, he just missed it. It was an expensive disaster.
"On the Nationwide level, everything is on a smaller scale so a mistake like that would cost you $15,000 or $20,000," Lunde said. "It took me a couple of days to see how much that really cost me. I knew it was big. I had a knot in my stomach because it was a lot of money that I gave away. Every dollar out here counts in FedEx Cup points as well as money.
"Chris Riley called and said, good playing, what happened on the last? I said, I made double, do you have any idea how much that cost me? He goes, No, but don't look."
Lunde dropped back to a tie for 14th and won $86,700. A tie for third would've been worth $200,000 more but it wasn't just money that he lost. His Nationwide status didn't get him into the field the next week for the FBR Open. A top-ten finish at the Hope would have. That missed short putt kept him out.
So he's back in action this week at a familiar spot. "It's pretty cool to be here," Lunde said. "It's kind of an honor."
He's home and at Torrey Pines, he's got an office with a view.