Ted Purdy has won a personalized version of the grand slam of golf - tournaments on the PGA Tour, the Asian Tour, the Latin American Tour and the Nationwide Tour - but on Wednesday at Tucson National, he was more slammed than grand.
He splashed three tee shots into the water near the No. 4 green, a seemingly harmless 175-yard, par 3. It wasn't a snowman. It was worse. It was a nine.
The 39-year-old Purdy, a consensus All-American at Arizona in 1995, didn't stop to check the leaderboard after he shot 81 in the U.S. Open qualifying round. He was soon in the parking lot and on the road to Phoenix, wondering where his golf game has gone.
Last week in Pereira, Colombia, while missing the cut in the Latin American Tour's Arturo Calle Colombia Open, Purdy looked into the crowd and saw a familiar face. It was his UA classmate, Marisa Baena, who in 1996 led Arizona to the NCAA championship, winning the individual title herself.
"How are things going?" Purdy asked.
"I'm out of golf," she answered.
Both smiled and nodded. It was golfer's code for "I'm at peace with myself."
Golf isn't always a good walk spoiled, but it can be so beat-yourself-up frustrating that the youthful exuberance Purdy (and Baena) captured in their Arizona days seems to have a much-too-short shelf life.
Life is hard. Golf is harder.
As Purdy left Tucson National, failing to advance to the U.S. Open sectionals, Wildcat successors Brian Prouty and Jonathan Khan had time appreciate the moment.
Prouty, 28, shot a 6-under 65, tying for the day's low round with Phoenix's Jin Park. Khan, 23, finished with a 68, grabbing one of five berths a field of 84 golfers so coveted. Both of the Salpointe grads are striving to get to where Purdy once roosted: six consecutive years and almost $7 million on the PGA Tour.
Both know how difficult and fleeting golf success can be.
That's why a one-day playoff for five spots in a U.S. Open Sectional qualifier brought 84 golfers to Tucson and 10,800 globally.
Prouty has played the Gateway Tour, the Canadian Tour and now, blessedly, the Web.com Tour, where opportunity knocks. He played recent events in Brazil and Chile, earning close to $6,000, and then flew back to Tucson and found himself paired with virtually unknown Derek Ernst in a practice round at the Gallery Golf Club.
That's the same Derek Ernst, PGA Tour rookie, who won the Wells Fargo Championship last week, earning $1.2 million, the same Derek Ernst who is paired at The Players Championship today with Louis Oosthuizen and Angel Cabrera.
Ernst had come to Tucson to work with his new instructor, ex-UA standout Susie Meyers. Prouty had been in town to work on his game with Tucson Country Club pro Michael Haywood.
On Wednesday, Meyers was at Tucson National, spending time with some of her pupils, among them Tommy Medina, Ricky Lee and Parker Houston.
"People think, 'if Derek can make it, I can make it,' " said Meyers, who is also the instructor for reigning Honda Open champion Michael Thompson of Rincon High School. "But in reality, very few make it and stay there."
That won't stop Prouty and Khan from grinding.
After becoming Arizona's leading player in 2007, a second-team All-Pac-10 selection, Prouty survived surgeries on both of his wrists and a finger, and is now ranked No. 2 in total driving on the Web.com Tour. He will fly to Greer, S.C., for next week's event, hopeful he can break through and someday be on the winner's stage with Ernst and Thompson, or more immediately, in the 2013 U.S. Open.
"It seems like I've been around the world a couple of times this year, but that's golf," says Prouty. "It can be crazy."
Khan has played infrequently on the All-American Gateway Tour where a golfer must pay about $2,000 in weekly entry fees. The competition is brutal. Charlie Beljan, who won on the PGA Tour last year, had been a Gateway regular for five years.
"On the Gateway Tour alone, the winning score is usually about 15 under for three days," says Khan, who won the 2011 National Invitational Tournament while an Arizona senior. "You never know when you'll get on a roll, get a break the way Charlie Beljan did. I'm going to work at it full =time this year."
Prouty has been a successful Monday qualifier on the Web.com Tour, but now has regular status as long as he continues to play well. Khan's next step is to begin targeting some Monday qualifiers, where the odds are about as good (or bad) as the 5-for-84 spots Wednesday at Tucson National.
Golf is fun and exciting. Opportunity awaits.
"This is a dream for me," Prouty says, smiling. "It's better than a real job."