They were only a few spots apart on the Sedgefield Country Club driving range, Kyle Thompson and Doc Redman both hitting balls to finish up their day Tuesday, preparing for a tournament that could prove pivotal to both in very different ways.
Thompson, who has won the Rex Hospital Open so many times he named his youngest child Raleigh, is ready to put away his clubs at age 39 after almost two decades of pro golf barring a good result at this week’s Wyndham Championship.
Redman, a Raleigh native who won last year’s U.S. Amateur, has made two cuts in six events since turning pro. His career is just starting, and he’s waiting for the break that will get it started. Maybe this is it: He had been told he would not get a sponsor’s exemption into this tournament, only to get a call Friday morning that he was in after all. Only 20, no one knows what lies ahead.
This is the other side of the PGA Tour tracks, far from the private jets and television commercials, where Thompson worries about paying for his kids’ college and Redman tries to scrape together opportunities to play without any tour status.
“One week can change everything,” Redman said. “It doesn’t really have to be that special of a week.”
For Thompson, it’s a familiar scenario. Three years ago, he came to the TPC at Wakefield Plantation fully intending to walk away from the game, tired of scraping together a week-to-week existence on the second-tier Web.com Tour, four years removed from his last win, also at the Rex. Instead of ending his career, his win that week prolonged it.
But for all his success on the Web.com Tour, and the promotion it bought him to the PGA Tour this summer, he has never been able to make a dent at the next level. The courses are just that much longer, the greens just that much faster. At this level, such fine margins make all the difference between competing week after week and going home empty-handed every Friday night as the travel expenses add up and the bank account runs dry. In 21 tournaments this year, he has made a grand total of $24,878.
Thompson never had that one big year where he was able to bank any money. His daughter, the oldest of three kids, is 9. He wonders: How will he be able to pay for her wedding if he’s bouncing back and forth between a tour that pays his expenses and one that drains his reserves?
“It would certainly be a lot less stressful than this,” Thompson said. “This game can drive you crazy.”
So yet again, Thompson is in North Carolina with his golf career hanging in the balance. There are opportunities for him back home in Greenville, S.C. – real estate, insurance, maybe a Chick-fil-A franchise. Maybe he’ll take some time off from his new job, whatever it is, to play the season-opening Web.com tournament in the Bahamas. Or the Rex: having won in 2007, 2011 and 2015, he’s due in 2019.
Absent a breakthrough this week, he’d rather do that than be one of the old guys trying to conjure a living on the tour, out of money and running out of time, against kids who get younger and hit the ball farther every year.
Redman is one of those, having turned pro after a 15th-place finish for Clemson at the NCAA championships in May. It’s been a whirlwind summer since he won the final two holes to force a playoff in a comeback U.S. Amateur win at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, but without a lot of professional success yet.
“Not many people get to do this,” Redman said. “It’s been a blast.”
He played the Masters in April, spending a night in the clubhouse, a privilege reserved for the top amateurs, and made the cut twice in PGA Tour tournaments as an amateur. Redman was invited to play in the Memorial by Jack Nicklaus, where he made his pro debut. Redman missed out on a chance to play the U.S. Open and British Open when he turned pro, but he did attend the USGA’s champions dinner at Shinnecock, an honor in itself, and he finished tied for 32nd at the Quicken Loans Invitational in Washington.
He has made $43,861, although that doesn’t count the $34,000 or so he would have won in tournaments he played as an amateur. This is his fifth straight week of pro golf, coming off four Web.com events that took him from Nebraska to Missouri to Kansas to California, and now back home to North Carolina, for the first time as a pro. That’s been as much of a learning experience as anything.
“It’s easy to just think it’s golf and it’s fun, but coming out here, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, practicing, getting ready takes its toll,” Redman said. “It gets pretty tiring after a few weeks.”
The PGA and Web.com tours head into their championship stretches now, so this will be the last tournament for Redman until he goes through tour qualifying next month, which will have a lot to say about what next summer will look like for him.
Unlike Thompson, who can see the end, and not for the first time, Redman has no idea what’s out there, only that for him, it’s merely the beginning.