What's a common characteristic of all TPCs? 'Long walks between the greens and the tees,' cracked Emlyn Aubrey, still grinding away at a career that's yet to fully take flight.
The month of May's just taken the baton from April, and already the course is firm. 'You're going to have to hit your tee ball reasonably straight here,' said Aubrey. 'Because the fairways are so hard, if you curve it even slightly off line your ball could end up bounding into a hazard,' he explained.
Not surprisingly, Irwin's first TPC effort puts a premium as well on second shots, some of which will need some air underneath since several greens slope from front to back. Irwin's regarded as one of the game's greatest iron players.
He joins other TPC player designers like Mark McCumber (TPC at Heron Bay), Greg Norman (TPC at Sugarloaf), and D.A. Weibring (TPC at Deere Run). Incidentally, the Buy.Com Tour will visit another TPC next week in Virginia Beach, designed by the original TPC maestro, Pete Dye, with help from native Virginian Curtis Strange. What's more, the seniors are also in the Tar Heel state this week at a TPC designed by Arnold Palmer, the TPC at Piper Glen in Charlotte.
The Buy.Com Tour arrives here with plenty of momentum. Last week in a town with a name straight out of a work of fiction, Traveler's Rest, South Carolina, the Tour arguably had one of its most memorable weeks ever. Dan Marino, who by the way will try to qualify for the U.S. Open this month, tossed a football around while waiting to tee off, and Kevin Costner lead the gallery in cheers at the final hole. Of course, he then rolled in a lengthy putt to give his team the Pro Am victory. Tin Cup, in which he starred so famously, didn't end any more perfectly than that.
The overall tournament winner, Jonathan Byrd, felt the same way. A highly touted 23 year-old All-America from Clemson, Byrd tried four times to Monday qualify for Buy.Com Tour events this season alone. And he went 0 for his first four.
'I think I'm a pretty good player,' he said afterwards. 'But it's really tough.'
Soon after those disappointments, Byrd was a winner, in his home state with family, friends and former Clemson teammates there to enjoy the ride.
Byrd's journey gives hope to all who aspire to play professionally but struggle to make strides. What may seem like little, even insignificant steps to the public at large simply because the Buy.Com Tour's played far from the center of the golfing universe are in fact huge steps for so many of these guys. Monday qualify-big step. Win a tournament-big step. Qualify for The PGA Tour-big step. Win on The PGA Tour-big, big step.
In so many cases now for guys not named Tiger, this is the road more often traveled. And this week in balmy North Carolina, the sweat it takes to go the distance figures to drip in buckets.