Corey Nagy leaned forward in his chair in Quail Hollow Club’s clubhouse and took a long swig of a sports energy drink.
It was Tuesday afternoon, and Nagy had just played a practice round at Quail Hollow in preparation for the Wells Fargo Championship, which begins Thursday. It will be Nagy’s first PGA Tour tournament and a welcome break for him from the grind of life in golf’s minor leagues.
But here’s where serendipity comes in. The Wells Fargo also happens to be played in Nagy’s hometown, where he starred not so long ago at Vance High and later with the Charlotte 49ers. He also lives in SouthPark, just around the corner from Quail Hollow.
“My expectations for this week?” said Nagy, 27. “To have the most fun of anybody out there. I know this is my first PGA Tour event and, even though I live here, these guys probably know about this course more than I do.
“But I’ll approach it the same way I do everything. I’ve got no expectations other than to enjoy it the best I can and use this as an opportunity as a stepping stone to keep on going.”
That statement is a product of Nagy’s relentlessly sunny disposition. It’s also part of a life view that has helped him slog along in golf’s minor leagues over the past seven years.
“He’s positive to the point of ridiculousness,” said Scott Lefevre, Nagy’s coach. “It’s not all sunshine and daisies in pro golf. But you can’t keep a good man down.”
Sidetracked by vertigo
Nagy’s pro career has so far been limited to appearances in golf’s backwoods. Afer a four-time All-American career with the 49ers, he started out strongly enough in 2011, winning three tournaments on the eGolf Gateway Tour and the tour’s money title.
Then came a setback. In 2012, Nagy’s career was sidetracked when he was diagnosed with vertigo. Stepping off a plane in Chile, where he was playing in a tournament, he said he felt like he “was walking on a swinging bridge.”
Doctors treated the vertigo and Nagy returned to playing that same year.
“That was for a brief time, but people remember it,” Nagy said. “I get questions about it all the time, because people want to make sure I’m fine. But luckily I had great doctors.”
Nagy won’t use the vertigo as an excuse for why he has at times struggled as a pro. But it did have an impact.
“Whether he’d admit it or not, he lost some confidence with the vertigo,” said Lefevre. “I go to the Masters and I see guys who were with Corey on All-American teams – and they’re walking the fairways of Augusta. I think, ‘If not for the vertigo, Corey would be there, too.’ ”
Nagy is certain that kind of success will happen for him some day.
“Absolutely not, I don’t get discouraged,” Nagy said. “It’s funny. Athletes are expected to have extreme success immediately. But if you look at every other business in the world, it takes 20 years to even break even. It’s tough. But with athletes, you hear, ‘Why weren’t you on Tour yesterday,’ or ‘Why weren’t you number one yesterday?’ It’s not easy, but it shouldn’t be. I have a chance to play golf and live a lucrative life. That shouldn’t be easy.”
Nagy was offered a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Wells Fargo in 2012. Still not sure he had recovered fully from the vertigo, he turned down the invitation.
“That was painful to see somebody who is always so upbeat, have a chance to play in a PGA Tour event and have to decline it,” said Lefevre. “But he didn’t want to have to ask for an exemption. He wanted to get in on merit.”
That’s just how Nagy made the field for this year’s tournament. He qualified by winning a qualifier Monday at Gaston Country Club. Harold Varner III, a PGA Tour rookie from Gastonia and a friend of Nagy’s, took Nagy around the course a few weeks ago.
“It was great for my buddy to do that for me,” said Nagy. “He showed me a few key spots and where to play.”
A pal from Davidson
Shortly after he was diagnosed with vertigo, Nagy was on the practice range at Charlotte’s Club at Longview when a young man about his age and height (6-foot-4) approached him, limping along in a walking boot.
Former Davidson basketball star Stephen Curry, who was recovering from ankle surgery early in his career with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, asked Nagy if he’d like to play a round with him.
“He had gotten word that I’d played in college at Charlotte and I think he kind of knew who I was,” said Nagy, who, like Curry, grew up in Charlotte. “I dropped everything and we went to play at Charlotte Country Club. I don’t think he was even supposed to be playing golf -- and he shoots even par. He’s incredible.”
Nagy said Curry’s ability to come back from that injury was an inspiration to him in his battle with vertigo. There is certainly no 49ers-Davidson bitterness between them.
“He’s really motivated me in how he practices and prepares and works at it relentlessly,” said Nagy. “But more than that, it’s how he conducts himself, how nice he is.”
Nagy said he has maintained his relationship with Curry, who got him tickets to a game in Cleveland during last season’s NBA Finals.
Curry is again recovering from an injury during this season’s playoffs. Nagy is the healthy one as he plays in his first PGA Tour event in his hometown.
Nagy’s game has been on an upswing. He won a mini-tour event at Cabarrus Country Club last summer, earning a chance to get back on the developmental Web.com Tour. He also is no stranger to Quail Hollow, where he has played several times with club members and PGA Tour players Johnson Wagner and Webb Simpson
Nagy hopes and wants to play well. Lefevre expects him to, perhaps adding a splash of a coach’s optimism.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he contended and I would be disappointed if he misses the cut,” Lefevre said. “He deserves to be out there.”