When I am not walking the fairways at PGA Tour events for CBS Sports, you can usually find me on a driving range. Some of the players I help are golfers just like you, and some of the players I help are Tour pros like Chez Reavie, who won last week’s RBC Canadian Open.
Reavie is a really good kid and has a lot of talent. If you have a 26-year-old daughter, he’s exactly the kind of guy you hope will knock on the front door on Saturday night. But that’s not going to happen because he’s engaged to a wonderful and smart girl named Amanda, who happens to be a molecular biologist.
Reavie is bright, funny, and believe it or not, humble. On Sunday, while trying to hold on and win his first PGA Tour event, he started up a conversation with a CBS spotter who was walking along with David Feherty. He said, to a complete stranger, “How’s it going? Is this fun or what?”
After the event was over, the spotter asked me how long it would take before Reavie wins again and becomes a jaded egomaniac like some of the other players who have been around a little longer. With the way he was brought up, and an inner circle of friends keeping Reavie’s head on straight, I really don’t think that’s going to happen. In fact, I like to think of him as this generation’s Jay Haas—a first-class person and a professional who can really play.
And like every other rookie who wins a Tour event, Reavie’s life is never going to be the same.
When I talked to Reavie on Monday morning, he was worried about fatigue and thought about taking a week off and preparing for his first career major, the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He had been on the road and playing for six straight weeks.
I laughed and explained to him that his victory also qualified him to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week in Akron, Ohio. When he learned that it’s a no-cut event that pays big bucks, even if you come in dead last, he realized pretty quickly that he needed to be there. Welcome to the big leagues! For Reavie, rest is going to come after the FedEx Cup playoffs end in late September.
But winning a PGA Tour event is more than just lucrative (he won $900,000 in Toronto); it also changes a player’s position in the pecking order. You now belong to a special group of people who are Tour winners. Here are some of the perks that come with the hardware:
1. A two-year Tour exemption. No player wants to go through the pressure cooker that is Q-School. PGA Tour rookies play the whole season with the specter of Q-School in the back of their minds. Winning means a player won’t have to worry about keeping his card for a while, and he can play with a different degree of mental freedom.
2. An invitation to the Masters. If you play professional golf, this is the invitation you cherish most. I think it’s wonderful that the folks at Augusta National re-instituted the policy of extending an invitation to winners of PGA Tour events. The prize money comes and goes, but no one ever forgets competing at Augusta for the first time.
3. Better starting times. While the PGA Tour likes to talk about treating all the players equally, that’s not the reality. Rookies are usually given lousy starting times on Thursday and Friday, sometimes even worse than Monday qualifiers. Stars like Tiger and Phil and Vijay are given times that ensure they’ll be on TV, which I can accept because golf has become entertainment. But rookies almost always draw the earliest and latest starting times, so they play under the worst course conditions, at least as far as the greens are concerned. Now that Reavie is in the winners’ category, he’ll get better tee times, and better greens, more often.
Chez Reavie is a wonderful example of the young players who are trying to make it on the Tour. In this day and age when fans and members of the media are either pining for Tiger or focused on finding the next big star, a lot of feel-good stories are not told. That’s fine, but don’t overlook the lesser-known players who are grinding it out and deserve our respect. Who knows? Today’s no-namer might just be tomorrow’s star.