Oppenheim, 36-year-old rookie, starts well at Torrey

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SAN DIEGO – Today’s PGA Tour is chock-full of hotshot prospects whose status on the world’s best circuit seems preordained.

Not so for Rob Oppenheim, who at 36 is finally a Tour rookie.

Fittingly, even that part didn’t come easily. 

Last fall, Oppenheim entered the Web.com Tour regular-season finale at No. 24 on the money list. He missed the cut and finished 26th – or one spot away from a card – by less than $1,000.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and Oppenheim was polishing off a closing 67 at the Web.com Tour Championship. He still didn’t think he’d done enough, and by the time he left the scoring trailer he was projected to finish 28th in the Web.com Tour Finals.

Crushed, again, Oppenheim, his wife and young daughter headed back home to Orlando. He was fueling up at a gas station just before I-95 when he received a call from the PGA Tour:

You’re in.

Back at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley course, Lucas Glover made what seemed like a meaningless bogey on the final hole. Except that it meant everything to Oppenheim, who now finished in a six-way tie for 12th, who now had earned the 25th and final card by $101.

“It was unbelievable,” he recalled Thursday. “My phone never got so many text messages in a one-minute period. People must have thought something happened, because we’re crying and hugging in the middle of some random gas station.”

Oppenheim turned around and made the 30-minute drive back to Ponte Vedra Beach, for a ceremony he wasn’t quite sure he would ever attend.

Just a few years ago, Oppenheim had virtually no status on the Web.com and could only get into a few events. That led him to a Hooters Tour event in Ocala, Fla., where he finished somewhere around the top 10, but it still wasn’t enough to cover his expenses for the week.

What are we doing here?, he wondered. He was away from his wife. He was away from his 1-year-old daughter. And he was seemingly miles away from making it to the big leagues, but he said he never wavered, never lined up another gig in case he finally conceded that professional golf wasn’t going to pan out.

“I love the game, love playing,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Last year, his persistence was rewarded on the Web.com Tour. He had only one top-10 in 25 starts, but he made it count, winning the Air Capital Classic to push him toward the top-25 bubble. Eventually, he earned his card, narrowly and with some help, but who cares?

“Looking back,” he said, “it’s one of the coolest feelings I’ve ever had. It just shows the fine line for someone else to get me there, and whether I was a better player or not, it doesn’t mean anything.”

At No. 50 on the priority list, Oppenheim knows that playing opportunities will be scarce this season, and that he must capitalize when they arrive. He has made the cut in only half of his four starts so far, pocketing just $25,780, but he didn’t forget how he got here. One of his first orders of business as a Tour member was to thank Glover.

Maybe his opportunity arrived here this week, after opening with a 5-under 67 on Torrey Pines’ North Course, enough to put him just one shot off the lead heading into Day 2 at the Farmers Insurance Open.

“It feels good,” he said, “but I also don’t want to be happy that I’m out here. Sometimes you can just enjoy it too much. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked, to be honest with you.”