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. – Tim Hegarty is nothing if not honest. The kid says what he thinks.
Kid. He's 28. I’ve known him for some time now, so I still find myself thinking of him in little brother terms.
Little. He’s 6’3”, 200 lbs. He’s neither a kid nor little. But he is honest.
“I hate golfers,” Tim says as we chat in the parking lot of Timacuan Golf Club in Orlando. He’s just come off a 1-under 71 in the first round of a Hooters Tour Winter Series event. He made seven birdies that day. And shot 71. We’ll delve into that in a bit.
Hegarty is a professional golfer, one of thousands dreaming of one day playing on the PGA Tour. Yet he hates golfers. Not the people, mind you. His disdain centers on the elite attitude of others he’s encountered during his years of playing for pay.
Hegarty grew up in a well-to-do family in Briar Cliff Manor, N.Y., and his father, Michael, is the financial backbone of his professional endeavor. But Tim has a blue-collar mindset. He worked construction when he was 16, laboring on projects like the Goldman Sachs Tower.
In early 2005, he moved from the Empire State to the Sunshine State, working in the landscaping business in West Palm Beach. He’d begin his days at 6 a.m., wrap up at 2 p.m., and then head out to a public course to play money games, using his sweat equity as his stake.
“I had a better attitude back then,” he says. “I thought, ‘No way you can beat me.’”
And few people did. His game was so good that a local Tim refers to as 'Murph the Surf' convinced him he should give up manicuring lawns and start playing golf full-time.
And so he did.
Hegarty has been a professional golfer for more than five years now. He never played junior events, never played collegiately, rarely played amateur events. Aside from major championships, he doesn’t watch much golf either, nor does he pay attention to who does what or who is whom.
In one of his first mini-tour events, he played alongside Matt Every. After a little banter, and finding out that Every went to the University of Florida, Tim asked him, “Did you play golf there?”
Every was the reigning Ben Hogan Award winner, given annually to the top men’s NCAA Division I player.
“It was like asking the Heisman Trophy winner if he played football,” Tim said with a smile, noting his friends still make fun of him about that.
Golf, however, has been part of Tim’s life since he really was a kid.
Hegarty’s dad is a member at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, N.Y., as well as Winged Foot. Jim McLean was the director of golf at Sleepy Hollow during Tim’s formative years and was his first teacher.
Tim’s current coach is David Glenz, a former PGA Professional of the Year and Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor. I met Glenz, along with Hegarty’s buddy, Jesse Smith, who played on mini-tours and the Canadian Tour for the last seven years before running out of money and having to take a desk job this January, at Heathrow Country Club a few weeks ago.
For as long as I’ve known Tim – the better part of a decade – I had never played a round with him. In fact, for as long as I’ve known him, I never knew too much about him on a personal level.
Tim is the brother of Sean, 34, and Matt, 36. Matt is the news director at Golf Channel and one of my best friends – that’s how I met the youngest of the three Hegarty boys. Matt, I know well, very well, so well that his family feels like part of my family.
But there is no nepotism here. I asked Tim to take part in “The Minors” series because I believed he would be a great fit for the feature. For one, he is a true mini-tour player. He spent this winter playing on the Hooters Tour and will spend his spring and summer playing the eGolf Professional Tour in and around North Carolina. He’ll also be playing in several events in New York, while trying to qualify for the U.S. Open and eventually the PGA Tour, through Q-School.
I also wanted to have Tim as a subject because he’s a great kid with great character – and he is a character, in the sense that he has an ornate personality not always seen in aspiring Tour pros.
And then there was his game. I knew he was good; I wanted to see how good.
On Jan. 29, we teed it up as a foursome at Heathrow, playing the par-71 layout from 7,000 yards or so.
Over 18 holes, I learned a few very important things about Tim the player: He's long and accurate off the tee; he's solid with his irons; and he's streaky with his putter. In October 2009, he developed the yips during the third round of a PGA Tour Q-School pre-qualifier. After trying everything but side-saddle style and selling his soul to the devil, he settled on a belly putter with a claw grip.
What he’s not, at least not yet, is a good thinker around the course, which he is first to admit.
“I’m a sports psychologist’s dream,” he says of his competitive mental make-up.
Case in point: the par-5 11th. Coming off a careless bogey on the par-5 eighth, Tim is dead center in the fairway after another monster drive. With 210 yards left, he’s thinking 3. He makes 6.
“That was an a**hole bogey,” he says coming off the green.
“I tried to step on a 6-iron and that was stupid. My miss was short of the green, just chip up and make my birdie – at worst.”
Instead, he pulled his approach left of the green. From there, he compounded his mistake, duffing his chip. He then compounded that mistake. With the pin on the lower tier of the green and his ball parallel to a severe slope, he should have taken the ridge out of play, chipping his ball below the cup and leaving himself with a 10-foot uphill putt for par. Instead he went for the perfect shot, misplayed the slope and needed two putts to finish off the hole.
“I’m such an a**hole,” he says.
Not really; not at all. He just knows what he’s capable of doing and thinks he can do it on every shot. He also has a tough time leaving his frustration on the green and not carrying it over to the next tee.
Hegarty can make birdies. Lots of birdies. As mentioned, he made seven at Timacuan in one round – and barely broke par. In his first 10 Winter Series events, Tim made 74 birdies and one eagle. He also made 61 bogeys, 16 doubles and four “others.”
“I’m literally in the top 10 every week in birdies made through 36 holes. I make too many mistakes,” he says, which is why he only played 36 holes instead of 54 in eight of his first 10 starts.
“I’ve got talent,” he says, noting that he shared the opening-round lead of the 2010 New York State Open after shooting 5-under 67 at Bethpage Black, before settling into a tie for eighth.
“We’re working on the mental part.”
There’s little doubt that he can hurdle this obstacle; he’s been doing such the majority of his adult life.
Tim is recognized by fellow players, particularly in North Carolina, as “the tattoo guy.” He has a pair of tattoos encompassing the lower half of his right leg. One is the full set of lyrics to Blind Melon’s “Walk,” a song about overcoming one’s personal issues.
He got the tattoos in 2003 and he's been regretting them ever since. “I hate them,” he says. And he honestly means it.
Tim’s grown up immeasurably since getting permanently inked. He doesn’t drink and just quit smoking. Nowadays, he spends his time with family and friends, watching movies with his live-in girlfriend, Amanda – and, of course, playing golf. Lots of golf.
Two over par through 15 holes at Timacuan, Hegarty birdies 16 and 17, and then makes a 6-footer for par on 18 for an even-par round.
“That was a good finish. Not a good round, but a good finish. I’ll take that with me,” he says.
That’s positive thinking. That’s already an improvement.
He’s not a kid anymore, even if I still call him that.
'The Minors' series continues next week, Feb. 15, with an introduction to Zack Sucher.