More than a quarter-century after his first moment in the sun, long-shot Jim Roy is an elite pro golfer again

More than a quarter-century after his first moment in the sun, long-shot Jim Roy is an elite pro golfer again

Jim Roy, right, with Champions Tour president Mike Stevens.
Gene Lower/Getty Images

For a guy who made it through both PGA Tour and Champions Tour Q-Schools on his first try, Jim Roy has had a testing journey in golf. The 2010 Champions Tour rookie, who earned the final exempt senior-circuit spot by winning a three-way playoff with a first-hole birdie, appreciates his newfound status all the more for beating such long odds.

Born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., Roy grew up loving all sports, especially baseball. His father, a State Supreme Court judge for 35 years before retiring, has multiple sclerosis and was no longer able to walk by the time Jim was born; it was Roy’s mother who introduced her son to golf. Though Roy grew up next to a Donald Ross course, Bellevue Country Club, he didn’t play seriously until age 15.

When it came time for college, Roy called University of South Florida golf coach Bob Shiver on a friend’s recommendation. Shiver told Roy he was welcome to come visit but that there were no scholarships available. Undaunted, Roy made the trip and played nine holes with USF star Beau Baugh, who later played several seasons on the PGA Tour.

“Beau went in and told the coach, ‘This kid is pretty good, you should get him to come down here,’ ” Roy recalls. “Coach told me if I could make the top five [players], he’d get me some scholarship money starting the following semester, and that’s what I did.”

Roy won a few college tournaments at USF and after graduation in 1982 decided to try PGA Tour Q-School that fall. He aced it, surviving famed and feared TPC Sawgrass in the final stage. But his rookie PGA Tour season proved his only one.

“I played 27 events and missed 11 cuts by one shot,” says Roy. “I was close to doing alright, but I lost my Tour card and never got it back.”

It wasn’t for lack of trying — Roy made nine return trips to Q School. Still, in those pre-Nationwide Tour days, Roy had to make a living outside of golf. He got involved in the mortgage business back in Syracuse, married, and began a family. Later, Roy became a stockbroker before ultimately rejoining his in-laws’ real-estate business in management and commercial capacities.

In 1993, Roy applied to the USGA to regain his amateur status and, after a probation period, returned to competitive amateur golf in 1996. He had always kept himself in good condition. “And I love practicing,” he says. “In fact, I tend to over-practice.” Coaching his three kids — two of whom are now college golfers — also helped keep his game sharp. Roy went on to win four New York State Mid-Am titles and qualify for six U.S. Amateurs.

As he approached age 50, the question became: Did he want to try top-tier golf again?

“I didn’t know if I was good enough, and I wasn’t 100 percent sure I even wanted to do it — all that travel,” Roy says. “It was my wife and kids who said, ‘What have you got to lose? Give it a shot!’ “

He also found inspiration in the example of his parents. In addition to his father’s longtime battle with MS, his mother is a cancer survivor — as Jim himself is after a thankfully brief bout with prostate cancer five years ago. Upon making the 7-foot birdie putt to make the Champions Tour, “I thought, ‘Holy mackerel! I can’t believe this actually just happened,’ ” Roy says. “I couldn’t wait to call my wife, Cheryl. There were more than 30 people who’d shown up at the house, unannounced, just to follow the final round on the computer. My kids were going crazy. I couldn’t wait to share it with all the people that were rooting for me.”

Now, in his second shot at rookie success, Roy faces the same issue he did last time, 27 years ago.

“I’m still trying to accomplish the same thing,” says Roy. “Play my own game, and trust it will be good enough. That’s the best advice I’ve ever got, though it’s easier said than done. Golf can frustrate the heck out of you, but I just love it so much.”

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