Editor's note: GolfChannel.com will be following four mini-tour players – Tim Hegarty, Zack Sucher, Benoit Beisser and Jack Newman – over the course of 2011 in our new feature, 'The Minors.' Check in each week for the players' progress, updates, photos and more.
ORLANDO, Fla. – The range balls are all Top-Flites with the red double stripes, worn out like a two-term president. The smell of sunscreen permeates the air and everyone seems dressed for the part – micro-fiber, sweat-soaking shirt; slightly too-tight slacks; and the requisite I’m-so-stylish belt.
Cars in the parking lot are littered with golf clubs and shoes. One guy opens the trunk of his SUV and pulls out a pair of soft spikes – from one of eight wooden, shoe housing compartments.
Some of the faces are familiar. David Gossett is on the range, beating away at those beat-up balls. Some of the names are recognizable, too. Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, is three players down, doing much the same – with an Arnold Palmer Iced Tea next to his bag.
The scene takes place at Rio Pinar Golf and Country Club on the east side of Orlando. The Black course is playing host to the week’s NGA Hooters Tour Winter Series event.
Walking off the par-4 ninth, his final hole of the first round, is Jack Newman. While you can tell by sight that several players practicing their swings and their putting have already reached the pinnacle of their professional success, Newman looks different.
He looks like he belongs – on the Nationwide Tour, on the PGA Tour, anywhere playing golf at a high level.
For one, he’s a handsome, strong kid, standing nearly 6’4”. For another, he’s dressed in more classic attire – his appearance isn’t forced, there is no white belt.
Then there is his attitude. Five under through 17 holes, Newman caught a flier out of the rough on No. 9 and made double bogey.
“That's golf,” he said afterwards. It’s not a care-free response. You can tell he’s unhappy. But he’s not in a sulking mood either. It’s off to Chipotle for lunch.
Newman’s story is nothing unusual. He grew up the youngest of five kids (three brothers and one sister) and used to tag along with his siblings when they’d go out to practice at a public course in Des Moines, Iowa.
He was 5 years old then, hitting a sawed off 5-wood and trying to stay out of everyone’s way. He’s 23 now, a former collegiate star, the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion and a 2009 Masters Tournament participant.
Well, his story’s not the usual, either.
In Newman’s senior year at Hoover High in Des Moines, he was named the 4A Iowa State Golfer of the Year and won the high school state championship. Not bad for a guy whose first love was basketball.
“I was a tall, slow kid who could only shoot the 3,” he said of his court prowess. “It proved a little too much for me.”
Still, Jack inherited athletic genes from his father, Bob, who played baseball for Illinois State. He even gave swimming a try during his senior year of high school just to get bigger and stronger – and because he had the ability to do so at a competitive level.
It took him a little while to warm up to the idea of trading away other sports to focus solely on golf, but his ultimate dedication paid off.
In 2005, then Michigan State University golf coach Mark Hankins took one look at his video and resume and told him to come on over to East Lansing.
“From the moment I got there, I fell in love with the campus. I also liked the guys on the team and that was it,” Newman said.
In four years, Newman won three tournaments, was voted Second Team All-Big Ten three times and was a three-time member of the Academic All-Big Ten team.
During his junior year, he defeated John Chin, 5 and 3, at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aura, Colo., to capture the 2008 U.S. Publinx title. With the victory came an invitation to Augusta National.
Newman missed the cut in the 73rd Masters Tournament, but nearly won the Par 3 Contest, finishing tied second behind Tim Clark. He also birdied four of his final five holes in the opening round for an even-par 72.
Unfortunately, the wind picked up in Round 2 and took Newman's score with it – a 4-over 76.
He didn't leave his first major empty-handed, however. John Deere Classic tournament director Clair Peterson offered Newman a sponsor's exemption into the July event held in his native Iowa. Newman accepted and recorded three sub-par rounds on his way to a tie for 39th – and no money, since he was still an amateur.
Now a professional, Newman has a well thought-out plan to make it full time on the PGA Tour.
“I’m playing primarily on the Pro Series (on the Hooters Tour) and will try and Monday qualify on the Nationwide Tour,” he explained. “I just hope to get hot at the right times. If I can get hot, Monday qualify for a few Nationwide Tour events, top 25 and keep rolling.”
Finishing in the top 25 of a Nationwide Tour event gets a player into the following tournament.
Newman is currently living outside Orlando and will stay there while the Hooters Tour contests events in Florida and Georgia to start its main schedule. He’ll then move to Ohio and live with his former Michigan State assistant coach – and current Miami, Ohio head golf coach – Casey Lubahn. Incidentally, Lubahn and his wife, Rachel, were a team on “Big Break X: Michigan.”
Newman just wrapped up play on the Hooters Tour’s Winter Series, where he made seven of 11 cuts and claimed $10,734, good enough for 22nd on the money list out of 181 participants.
This past week, he tied for 19th in the tour's Members Only Shootout, carding modest rounds of 68-71-71. He was pleased with his first round, but described the other two days as 'so-so.'
As Newman knows well, so-so won't get you where you want to be in professional golf. Case in point: the Shootout. Jesse Hutchins won the event with an 11-under 61 in the final round and a 23-under total over three days.
Hutchins has played in well over 100 Hooters Tour events. This was his first win.
'The depth of talent is great (in all ranks of professional golf), especially on the Hooters Tour. I don't know if people really understand how low the guys can go out here,' Newman said. 'You have to be prepared for stuff like that to happen and be ready to go low yourself.'
In an effort to do just that, Newman recently teamed up with Mike Bender, the 2009 PGA of America Golf Professional of the Year and swing coach for fellow Iowan Zach Johnson.
'We're just getting started, but I think we're headed in the right direction,' Newman said. 'I'm trying to tighten up my swing, get it more rounded. It's a matter of being able to get more consistent.'
Monday afternoon in Orlando, Newman spent time at Orange County National practicing alongside fellow Spartan Matt Harmon.
Harmon, who was a senior when Newman joined the MSU golf team, has won four times on the Hooters Tour over the last four years and has earned nearly $250,000 on the circuit. Yet, like Newman and countless others, he's still an unsettled golf soul searching for one good shot at the big leagues.
'There are thousands of players out there trying to make it (on the PGA Tour),' Newman said. 'You can't get frustrated. You have to be patient. Keep working and keep practicing, and eventually your time will come. You have to believe your time will come.'