Choosing a different path after a big win in '91

Choosing a different path after a big win in ’91

Ted Schulz holds up the Victor's Trophy at the 1991 Los Angeles Open at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 22 — The Los Angeles Open always sounded like an important stop on the PGA Tour. For starters, there’s the name. In this age of bottomless sponsors, now it’s known as the Nissan Open, but in our hearts, it’s still the Los Angeles Open — a city open.

The legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray always wrote brilliantly about the event. The fact that it was held at stately Riviera Country Club, one of the best courses west of the Mississippi, helped make it a fairly glamorous tournament. Not to mention the winners. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan. Byron Nelson. Cary Middlecoff. Arnold Palmer. Fred Couples. Ted Schulz …

You remember Ted Schulz, don’t you? He was a tall, clean-cut, smiling young man who won the L.A. Open in 1991, surviving a final-round duel with Jeff Sluman, among others. It wasn’t, perhaps, the most thrilling finish — Schulz missed short birdie putts at 16 and 17 in the final round, then two-putted for par from 45 feet at the 18th. He had to wait until Sluman, playing in the final group, failed to make birdie to officially earn the victory. It was the second of his career. He’d already won the Southern Open, and in ’91 he went on to crack the top 30 on the money list, which earned him an invite to the Tour Championship and the following year’s U.S. Open and Masters. He’d achieved the standard by which players measured their true arrival on the PGA Tour.

Schulz, Ted Schulz. What, you know nothing?

Well, there’s a reason you may not recall his name. He’s one of the rare PGA Tour winners who went on to get a real job in the real world, unlike the many who keep playing right onto the Champions Tour, where old golfers never die, they just fade away.

I ran into Schulz Sunday afternoon by the 12th tee at the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Club. Schulz, a Louisville native who played college golf at the university, has been the director of golf ever since the Cardinal Club opened in the fall of 2001. (I haven’t seen them all, but I guarantee the club ranks among the 10 best college golf facilities in America.) Schulz happened to be following the last threesome in the opening round of the Big East championship. I was too because my son, Mike, was competing for Marquette, and we spotted each other.

I’d already been pleasantly surprised to find out he had an office in the clubhouse, where the magazine story I wrote about his L.A. Open win was framed along with his photo on the cover of Golf World, the magazine for which I’d written the story. He was easy to spot — he still looks trim and fit at 47, like he could go out and shoot under par tomorrow. He still has the easy smile, the friendly face and the enthusiasm of that L.A. Open champ, only with slightly graying hair.

How do you go from PGA Tour winner to director of golf in Louisville in 16 years? Schulz was fully exempt on the PGA Tour through 1994, played the next three years on sponsor’s exemptions and under the past-champions category, and then spent three years playing sporadically on the Nationwide Tour. When the Louisville course opened in 2001, he was ready. But he was a top-30 money winner in ’91. What happened?

Another wave of long-hitting and fearless young Tour pros came along. More important, Schulz got an endorsement deal and changed his clubs, getting away from his traditional Ping irons. It proved costly. “It really hurt me,” Schulz said. “I lost my confidence and then my Tour card. It was a three-year deal for a pretty good lick of money, so I had to stick it out. It was a tough three years, really hard.”

He switched back to his old clubs once the deal expired but didn’t recover the old magic. He tried Q-school once, didn’t make it and didn’t go back. Golf, at that point, just wasn’t as important anymore. “I had three kids and my wife didn’t want to travel anymore,” Schulz said. “I prioritized, and golf took a back seat to my family. I didn’t want to do what it takes to be out there. I just sort of drifted off the Tour.”

Schulz wasn’t fully prepared for such grand success. “Winning was a culture shock,” he said. “My expectations changed. After I won, I put pressures on myself to play well at Doral, and play well every week. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Now he’s starting to think a little bit about senior golf, but not very hard. The same thing that drove him off the regular Tour keeps him from getting fired up about senior golf — a lack of desire. After years of playing in Asia early in his career and then grinding on the PGA Tour, there’s no place like home. “I don’t even remember what it’s like to travel,” he said. “It’s so great to be home. I love Louisville and I don’t miss the stress of playing on Tour.”

Thanks to teaching and working with the U of L team, he’s still got his hand in competition, in a manner of speaking. As a Tour player, he always knew there was more to life than just golf. A devout Christian, Schulz came up with an ingenious way to spread the Word. When approached for autographs, Schulz handed out pre-autographed cards that carried his picture plus some messages about his faith. “It was just something about what’s important in life,” Schulz said. “Life isn’t about golf, it’s about your relationship with the Lord.”

It was a thoughtful approach that upgraded the meaninglessness of autograph collecting, yet still gave spectators what they wanted — a signed souvenir to take home.

Schulz has his own souvenirs of his Tour career, and his memories. When asked what he recalled about that final round in the L.A. Open, he laughed and said, “Every shot.”

The story behind his victory, though, was his changed in attitude. “I was struggling before L.A.,” he said. “I was hitting the ball perfect the first five weeks on Tour and missed the cut because I couldn’t throw it in the ocean with my putter.”

He took a week off, adjusted his approach to putting and attended a seminar by David Cook, a sports psychologist who coined the phrase, “See it, feel it, trust it.” So Schulz committed to staying positive at L.A., and to think about winning the event rather than just trying to make the cut. His new outlook was tested early.

“I started on 10,” he said, “and stiffed it. I missed the putt. I stiffed it at 11 and missed. I stiffed it at 12 and missed. The 13th is a dogleg left and I’m a fader. I hit it into the tulips right, had to chip out, then hit a bad shot. I’m not even on the green in three. I made my up-and-down for bogey and stayed positive. I wound up shooting 68 that day. That was a turning point for me.”

At the end, he played most of the final nine with the lead. At the 18th, he was 45 feet away and needed to two-putt. He rolled his first putt to eight inches and tapped in. As long as Sluman didn’t birdie the tough 18th, Schulz would be the champion.

His other memory from the week was staying in someone’s home with fellow player Andrew Magee. “On Wednesday, Andrew was playing tennis with his caddie,” Schulz said. “I figured, he’s going to shoot a million tomorrow. You don’t mix golf and tennis. I had a late tee time Thursday, and when I got there, Andrew had just shot 28 on the front nine. I thought, man, I should’ve played tennis yesterday.”

He didn’t end up regretting that decision any more than his decision to keep his roots in Louisville and spend time with his wife, Diane; their daughters — Shelby, 12, and Sophie, 11; and their son, Sam, 15. Sam plays golf and is a pretty good artist, judging by the work on the wall in Dad’s office. Shelby is into dance, and Sophie just made the cheerleading squad. Their adorable photos adorn his office.

“This is a great situation,” Schulz said. “I wouldn’t change anything. Except maybe the size of the purses we played for back then.”

He laughed. Ted Schulz is home and he knows this — there’s nothing better.