He Fights the Eternal Grind


Its one of the most stressful moments of a persons career, this 125 business. Finish in the 125 or better and youre eligible to play next season. Finish below that, and at best your itinerary becomes risky indeed. Sponsors exemptions a spot or two for Nos. 126-150 for some, a past-champions exemption or two but for the average Joe, life on the wrong side of 125 is a kiss of death.
There are two more weekends to make the 125, this week and then next week at Tampa. For some, it is most definitely life-changing. If you dont make it above the water-line, you sometimes find it is an impossible task. Some will try after being exempt this year, yet never again make it.
Bob Burns was almost that person last year. He was in danger of missing the 125, yet a victory at Walt Disney saved him. His win bought him a little time, but he admits this in-again, out-again business is getting old. Hes been chasing 125 since 1992, sometimes making enough money to play on the PGA Tour, sometimes lapsing back onto the Nationwide Tour.
Burns is a typical guy who continually chases that magic number. He was an all-American at Cal State-Northridge, won the 1990 NCAA Division II Championship. That wasnt so difficult, but ever since his house was near the epicenter of the 1994 California earthquake, it seems like nothing has been easy for him.
He played the Nationwide in 92 and 93, then made the big tour in 94 and 95. In 96, he was in the minor leagues again on the Nationwide, yo-yoed back up to the bigs in 97, then back again to the minors in 98. But since 1999, hes managed to hang on, putting in time at the 93, 99 and 03 Q-Schools along the way.
You can't take anything for granted, Burns said, especially if you are one of the guys that's always trying to get that 125 spot - which I have been in my career. So you have to treat every tournament as if its a qualifier for the next year.
Not to downplay it, you are playing to win the tournament, but you know, (it) just doesn't always work out that way. You see a lot of people haven't won out here. A few people have won a lot. So there's a big discrepancy there.
There was always that nagging little knife in between his shoulder blades, ready to twist in any given October. He lives an existence that is far more traveled than the 30-40 guys who seem to always be winning. These men, the ones who are always on the outside looking in, are the lifeblood of the tour, bouncing up and down between the regular tour and the Nationwide, making what by normal standards is a comfortable living, but always fearful that this year might be the last one.
I have been on the bubble quite a bit, Burns said in the classic understatement. Even when I got my card through the Nike (now Nationwide) Tour (in 1998), I was 14th on the money list going into the last event there. And I won the (Tour) Championship; ended up finishing first on the money list, so I guess it's not anything terribly unusual for me.
But coming in last year, 118 on the money list - I think I had about $535,000, right about what we felt the number was going to be at the end of the year. Not that I felt secure, but I knew I still needed some good tournaments coming in. I had played pretty well at Vegas; ended up missing the cut by one. It really inspired me to come here and play well because I felt like my game was in good shape.
And, of course, he ended up winning on the Disney courses. This year, though, its the same song, umpteenth verse ' he ranks 156th on the money list. Hes missed 15 of 26 cuts, although lately it looks like hes found it again. He has made the cut in nine of his last 11 events. Unfortunately, of course, the door is about to slam just as he finally is about to get it together. Remember, theres just this week and next week.
For Burns, though, this is a year when he can stop worrying. His victory last year brought him a two-year exemption ' this year was the first, next year will be the last. Burns, now 35, hopes its time he broke the chain. Hes getting awfully tired of having to sweat it out every October.
I'd be lying if none of the guys that are on that bubble coming down to the end of the year, including myself - obviously we're thinking about it, he said.
I'd say at this point in my career, even the last couple of years of my career, I haven't put as much pressure on myself; whereas, I have to do it, I have to succeed because I know that there's always golf to be played.
It's my job. I have learned that. I have been doing it for almost thirteen years. I will continue to do it and I will play out here for a long time, you know, I might not finish in the 125 every year, I might not win every year, but I still think I have got quite a few good years in me.
Hes one of the boys who have always struggled for the 125. Burns doesnt like it one bit, but the fact is undeniable. Finish on the wrong side of that number, and golf isnt a game anymore. Its nothing but an occupation ' an ugly, grinding occupation.