Now, as we look forward to a very promising 2004 Nationwide Tour schedule, many stories from this year will remain in the tours lore for years.
To me, one of the biggest stories of the year from a competition standpoint is the success of so many players who began the year without a home.
Eight players successfully played their way onto the Nationwide Tour after starting the year without any membership status. Of those eight players, five were seen heading home with trophies in the back of their real home'their cars. Of those five tournament winners, three were last spotted donning a cap and gown as they departed Prattville, Ala., en route to the PGA Tour. They are: Jason Bohn, Andre Stolz and Vaughn Taylor.
Although such official records arent kept, nobody can remember more than two players earning membership in any previous year.
One of the brightest aspects of the Nationwide Tour is that its far more viable to play your way onto this tour than it is the PGA Tour. Even as the tour has grown to unprecedented heights, it hasnt lost sight of its original purpose, which is to provide a place for the future stars of the game to earn their stripes. No further evidence of this is necessary after watching Chad Campbell dominate the PGA Tours best at the recent Tour Championship.
If my crystal ball is as clear as it was two years ago when it predicted future greatness for Mr. Campbell, then Zach Johnson will provide similar validation for the Nationwide Tours rightful place near the top of golfs professional ranks. Zachs dominance this year will be tough to match for years to come. Nine top-3 finishes in just 20 events played, including two wins and an all-time record of nearly a half million dollars in earnings, will long be remembered as the stuff of legend.
Tom Carter and Bo Van Pelt both seem primed and ready to make an immediate impact on the PGA Tour after breakout seasons. Carter won three times in a span of nine weeks, and he made it look extremely easy each time. Combine his power with his silent-assassin demeanor, and it looks likely to me that hell quietly find his way onto the first page of the leaderboard many, many times next year.
Van Pelts only missing ingredient has been the self-belief necessary to become a force. To quote his father, Bob, at the Nationwide Tour Championship, Bo was the last person to realize just how good he is. But now he is starting to realize it, and if and when he fully understands it, the world will be at his fingertips.
The feel-good stories of the year surround a few PGA Tour veterans. Blaine McCallister and the always-good-natured Guy Boros are headed back to their former playground. Both players have proven they can win at the highest level in the past, and both are relishing the opportunity to prove it once again.
McCallister summed up the Nationwide Tour best when he said, This has been the best year of my entire career. I didnt even send in my Q-School entry when it was due (not knowing if he would eventually finish in the top-20) because I relished the opportunity to play out here again next year.
Tommy Tolles provided some feel-good of his own, not to mention a great deal of drama, by just hanging onto the final spot in the top-20. His once promising career now looks like it has a chance to blossom again.
As far as surprising stories from the other end of the spectrum, Scott Dunlap finished the year in 82nd position on the money list. Anybody who watched him play on the PGA Tour is left to wonder why were not talking about his return to form.
But, perhaps most surprising is Bryce Molder.
Bryce was only the fourth collegiate player in history to earn first-team All-America honors four times. He joined David Duval, Gary Hallberg, and Phil Michelson in earning a cant miss moniker.
Immediately after college, Bryce nearly won the Reno-Tahoe Open on the PGA Tour. He very nearly played his way onto the tour shortly thereafter, but ultimately found himself playing full-time on the junior circuit. I gave him virtual lock status at the beginning of the year.
Bryce played in 18 tournaments and finished 148th on the money list. Explanations at this point become subjective and difficult; however, Bryce committed to some major swing changes last winter and knew that tough times would ensue. But he stuck with them with the belief that the changes were necessary to reach his potential. Whether or not that was a wise decision for such a talented youngster is debatable, but even if those swing modifications take heed, the question now becomes whether or not he can mentally recover from the anguish of playing so poorly for the entire season.
And lastly, what in the world happened to Edward Fryatt? From 77th in earnings on the PGA Tour in 2000, to missing the cut in all 18 events played this year on the Nationwide Tour, Edward painstakingly revealed the reality that each player lives with, but rarely acknowledges. There are no guarantees in professional golf; youre only as good as your next tournament.
The next tournament, and the next year, and all the years to come look very promising for the Nationwide Tour, and no doubt, the stories from the road in 2004 will be as compelling as ever.
They always are. Stay tuned
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