Mike Goodes had already walked away from golf once when he considered turning his back on 2006 Champions Tour Q School. Tour politics or was it fate? seemed set against him, there to cancel his run at professional golf before it started.
"It goes to prove you never know what's good or bad for you," Goodes says.
Another lesson of the Mike Goodes story: No matter how conflicted you feel, always try your hardest. Once armed with a Tour card he wasn't sure he even wanted, Goodes embarked on a pro career that's already taken him further than he ever expected.
Ben Goodes put a club in his son Mike's hands as soon as he could walk. The boy played his first tournament at age 5 at Pinehurst; the Goodes grew up in Reidsville, N.C., 90 miles from the famed resort. Mike eventually earned a partial golf scholarship to the University of North Carolina where he never teed it up.
"I grew up in a small town, and I wasn't the most mature 18-year-old on Earth," Goodes says. "My dad, bless his soul, was a great father, but he had me regimented as a kid. He'd come home from work, and we'd go play or practice. When there wasn't anyone there to tell me that, I didn't do it."
Goodes dropped out of college after a year and went to work in his father's dry cleaning and uniform rental business. He was in his mid-20s and married when some friends convinced him to pick up his clubs again. A year later, Goodes made the field for the North Carolina State Amateur, a tournament he would win in 1989. He also qualified for several U.S. Amateurs and Mid-Amateurs. Still, it wasn't until he reached his forties, with a stable business and family life, that he focused on reaching his golfing potential.
"My effort wasn't just to see if I could make the Champions Tour," Goodes says. "I wanted to be a better golfer because I love the game and the competition. I just enjoyed trying to get better, and it turned out I did get better."
As he approached 50, two issues created "serious reservations" about trying to reach the Champions Tour. The first was ambiguous: He had his best-ever year as an amateur at 49, winning three of the four majors in his PGA Section, including his second State Am. The second was cut-and-dried: The Champions Tour's decision, since reversed, to offer Q School graduates only Monday-qualifying exemptions rather than spots in the tournament field.
"I was sick. Give up my amateur status to Monday-qualify every week? This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of," Goodes recalls. "I told my wife, 'I'm not doing that.'"
He did, of course. It would be too simple to say that the rest is history. Goodes struggled in his 2007 rookie season, even after following six straight missed qualifiers with 10 consecutive successes. The bright side: He found the weaknesses in his game, including his short game and his preparation. He spent more time chipping and putting and let his partner run their plastics-recycling business. Goodes committed to being a full-time pro golfer.
"I know my place on Tour, and my place is I don't have a place unless I play good," he says with a laugh but with time he also became more comfortable among golfing royalty.
"It's like an actor being around Brad Pitt or George Clooney," says Goodes. "Eventually, you realize that they're just normal human beings."
Tour veteran Lonnie Nielsen became a key mentor, and one of his tips was to stop looking at scoreboards often the last player on the course for the first round, Goodes would be distressed to be even par through seven holes and already be eight shots behind the leaders and just try to shoot three rounds of 69. It helped lessen the self-imposed pressure, and Goodes played well enough in 2008 to earn fully exempt status for the 2009 season.
Now determined to do everything in his power to improve his game, Goodes spent several days in the off-season with famed sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella. Rotella's emphasis on process over results and concern only with the shot at hand paid immediate dividends at Goodes' season-opening event, the Allianz Championship. The first time Goodes asked where he stood was in the middle of the fairway on the final hole right before the approach that led to a two-putt birdie and his first Champions Tour title.
"The winning moment was surreal, an out-of-body experience," says Goodes. "I didn't get real emotional I don't know why. I had a huge amount of peace about me. I didn't feel like I'd just done something that I'm not able to do.
"But," he adds, "I never dreamt that big."