The 2022 Epson Tour season starts up in just a few weeks. Before I begin, I want to reflect and share the most valuable lessons I learned during my rookie year on the tour. However, before I dig into the lessons one could only learn from their first go-around, I want to take you back to where it all started.
I played my first Epson Tour event in Garden City, Kansas. But the story begins in Arkansas. I flew out to Hot Springs for a WAPT event at the end of April. At that point, I had partial Epson Tour status from 2019 Q-School due to the cancellation of the 2020 Q-School from the pandemic. I thought there was a chance I would gain entry into the Epson event in Kansas that same week. At that point in the year, players started to take weeks off. From a logistical standpoint, Kansas was a good one to miss.
I stepped up on the tee for a practice round in Hot Springs as the fourth alternate for the Epson event in Kansas. By the time I arrived at the seventh green, I received a text from the operations team that another spot had opened. I was in. The next question they ask is: can you make it to Garden City, Kansas in the next 24 hours?
The journey started with a mad sprint, shoving my pushcart from the farthest point on the golf course to my car in the parking lot. Dripping in sweat I gained a new appreciation for all the moms I’ve seen pushing strollers on their morning runs. Once I got to my car, another sprint began. How fast could I travel over 600 miles northwest to Kansas? At first glance, it made the most sense to drive. It would be about 10 hours. I could throw everything in the car and get on my way.
Then I looked at the costs and my heart leapt. It would be cheaper to fly to Australia than to return a rental car to a different city (rookie lesson number one). The closest airport to Hot Springs is Little Rock. That’s about an hour drive. From there, I had to fly Dallas and hop on a puddle jumper to Garden City.
However, there was one caveat to it all. My sister's bridal shower was that Sunday. The WAPT event ended on Saturday, so I would have made it home in time. The Epson Tour event did not conclude until Sunday. I had no hope of making it back to help tie her ribbon bouquet. Family first, always. I knew this was a big moment in my sister's life. I also knew that if I played well in Garden City, it could change the trajectory of my year. A good finish and I would move up the money list so that when they did a reshuffle of status, I would gain entry into the events from that point forward, improving my chances of finishing higher on the money list. After speaking with my parents, I decided to play.
So, I packed my bags and drove through the rolling hills to Little Rock. I called my sister to explain. I could hear the disappointment in her voice. It broke my heart. As I passed each rolling hill, another tear rolled down my face. I doubted my decision and debated turning around. I arrived at the rental car return and was at a literal fork in the road.
The traffic spikes were staring me straight in the eyes screaming that once they were crossed, I was at the point of no return. Both my sister on the phone and the car honking in my rearview mirror waved me on ahead. So, I followed the yellow brick road and made my way to Kansas.
When I got to the rental car return, they informed me I was three minutes past the cut-off for that day and I would be charged another day. More tears, more frustration and rookie lesson number two.
I finally made it to Dallas and started boarding the plane for my final destination, Garden City, Kansas. It was the smallest plane I’ve ever been on, almost solely filled with Epson Tour players. I was too distraught, tired and emotional to speak to anyone, so I put on my headphones and just looked around. It felt a little bit like a scene from the movie, “A League of Their Own.”
When we touched down in Garden City, I walked straight out of the airplane onto the tarmac. It was pitch black. All I saw was endless fields of corn, one tiny building and the fresh smell of cow manure. I wanted to say, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore.” The only thing was, I was just arriving. The airport looked more like a modern-day urgent care. I’d later find out that my COVID test hadn't returned and I had to spend the rest of the following day in the hotel room gazing at the cornfields that sat majestically on the other side of my window.
Many people skip this event because there is not much more to Garden City than a few fast-food chains, a couple of corn fields, and Buffalo Dunes Golf Club. To me, there was so much beauty in the simplicity. It was drastically different than anything I’d ever seen. I truly felt like I was in the “Wizard of Oz” and similar to Dorothy, I was on the path to accomplishing my dream. I saw some of the most beautiful sunsets, sunrises and experienced a whipping wind that could easily knock the tin man off his feet. I played well enough to set myself up for the remainder of the year.
After my final round, I had to stay in Garden City until my flight the following morning. I picked up food at a local Thai restaurant that all the players had raved about throughout the week. I went back to my hotel, flipped on the only channel the TV provided and ate my Pad Thai. Perfectly fitting, the movie playing was “The Wizard of Oz”.
That night I learned the true meaning of two sayings I had said to myself over and over throughout the week. The term, “follow the yellow brick road” means “a course of action or series of events viewed as a path to a particular (especially positive or desired) outcome or goal.” There was no doubt I was on my yellow brick road. The saying, “we’re not in Kansas anymore” has nothing to do with being in Kansas. Instead, it is about entering a place that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. As I looked out my window at the cornfields and The Tractor Supply store, the only thing bringing me comfort was the warmth of the pad Thai noodles in my mouth.
I finished up dinner and cracked the fortune cookie the restaurant put in my bag. The fortune read, “nothing is impossible to a willing heart.” I reflected on the journey that it took to get there and the will it took to make it happen. That tiny slip of paper still sits in the back of my phone.
I don’t write this to make the readers feel bad for the hurdles we have to overcome to play golf every day. I write this to give a glimpse into the obstacles that are presented outside the golf course and the great lengths one will go to accomplish their dreams. I’m thankful for my family, especially my sister, who encouraged me to take the first step on the yellow brick road. I think we all have our versions of Kansas, those moments when we feel uncomfortable but know that no goal worth achieving is easy. We are all on our own unique Yellow Brick Road, one that we hope leads to those dreams.