Playing in his muddy Reeboks, Landers cut an unimposing figure. He wouldn't wear the new Foot Joy golf shoes that Freddie made him buy, because he hadn't worn spikes in more than five years and thought he would scuff the greens if he dragged his feet. "Everybody in Lutz knew us as the Farmers from Azle," says Freddie, who rode in the cart with Robert wearing a bandage on her nose because Sundance had kicked her in the face. "We looked plenty pitiful, but nobody treated us ugly."
Fighting head winds up to 40 mph that were the result of tropical storm Gordon, Landers shot an opening-round 72, which put him in a tie for fourth. "Gordon helped me a lot," he says. "I can keep the ball down and control it. Some golfers shot themselves out. They couldn't handle the weather."
Much less the competition. "Q school is the toughest event I've ever played in," says veteran Senior tour player Rocky Thompson, a 30-year pro. "If a man is good enough to get one of the eight spots, he should succeed. On the other hand, I've seen some talented qualifiers not play to their capabilities when they're upside the Trevinos, the Stocktons and the Floyds. They get too excited. You've got to be pretty sure of your game."
Which Landers is. "I've always been very insecure," he says. "Golf gave me greater self-esteem. I'm now to the point where I feel equal to the next guy."
In this case, equal is more steady than exciting. "Fm not much into risk," Landers says. Nor is he much into sand or water. Over 72 holes in Lutz, Landers hit into only two bunkers and two ponds.
He relied on a reconditioned three-wood, which has a graphite shaft he found in a garbage can. "Robert spent $12 on that club," says his friend Jerry Hamilton. "That's really extravagant for him."
Landers wasn't being cheap, just frugal. He used a coupon that got him and Freddie into a Ramada Inn for $34 a night. During the entire 10-day trip, they spent $69.35 on gas, $4.59 on Advil and $147.75 on food and other necessities. "We would have spent less." says Landers, apologetically, "but we had to buy a couple of pillows for my back."
In Lutz he used only seven balls over four rounds. "I would have used fewer," he says, "if the two hadn't landed in the drink." He had intended to use the same ball the entire final round but reconsidered when he double-bogeyed the 15th. "By golly, using a new ball turned out to be a good move," he says. "I parred the last three holes."
After Robert qualified for the tour with a short putt on 18, he and Freddie embraced. And cried. And embraced. And cried. But they didn't futz around Lutz. "I had to get back to Azle to chop firewood," Robert says. "I had promised some folks I would have it for them by Thanksgiving."
So how did Robert and Freddie celebrate? "On the drive home," says Robert, "we stopped at a Waffle House instead of a McDonald's."