So it was back to Boulder, sell the motor home, rent an apartment. Last year Sessions played only nine Mondays. It's not that he is losing the fire, just that it can cost up to $1,000 a try, adding the entry fee to a plane flight, a rental car, motel and food. Yet his confidence seems boundless. He says "when I earn my exemption," not "if."
For rabbits such as Sessions, earning an exemption is far more difficult than it once was. Years ago, when only the top 60 money winners from the preceding year were exempt, there were often as many as 30 spots open on a Monday. Moreover, if a rabbit did qualify, he just had to make the cut to qualify for the next week's event. But in 1983 the Tour adopted a stringent new policy that, in its own words, "virtually eliminated Monday qualifying." The top 125 players on the money list are now exempt the following year, and the number of open spots each week is four. Worse, unless a qualifier finishes in the top 10 of that tournament, it's back to Rabbitsville. However, the challenge, while difficult, is not impossible. In 1986 one Fred Wads-worth qualified for the Southern Open and went on to win the tournament. It is his only victory in an otherwise nondescript career on Tour.
Monday, Jan. 8, in Tucson was the first qualifier of the new season. Sessions flew in the previous Saturday and shot a practice-round 75. "I'll do better Monday," he said, always the optimist. Ever cost-conscious, he stayed at a Motel 6 and took his meals at a family-style restaurant where a $10 entree is considered pricey. On Sunday he hit a bucket of balls, then retreated to his room to watch football and the Mercedes Championships. If the latter made him envious, he didn't show it. Asked which he would choose, Norman's driving, Pavin's short game or Crenshaw's putting, he opted for Norman's. "I have the short game," he said.
Next morning, facing an eight o'clock tee time, he was up before dawn to stretch his 45-year-old body. Orange juice and a muffin did it for breakfast—"I can never eat before playing"—and at 7:15 he arrived at Arthur Pack, a public course with fairways dyed green to distinguish them from the rough, which is brown. The sun had not yet cleared the mountaintops, and a brutal wind promised to make the early holes miserable for the 111 starters.
On a golf course Sessions brings to mind Peter Jacobsen, plus four a side. While his three playing companions, two of whom could have been his sons, stood stony-faced on the 1st tee, Sessions walked up to each and introduced not only himself—"Chase? Dean Sessions. Good to meet you, Chase"—but also a friend who was acting as his caddie. Through most of the round, with the exception of a rare "nice shot," no one but Sessions said anything. "My play, Tom?" he would ask. "Would you like to go ahead, Chase?" When one player took a nine, Sessions was quick to give him a pat on the back and say, "Hang in, Bobby."
As for Sessions himself, the first Monday of 1996 was no different from all the others before it, save the one. Anyone seeking a Sessions highlight film would do well to concentrate on his second hole. An eight-iron stopped six feet from the pin, and in went the putt for a birdie. The birdie, as in only birdie. Cut and print. The rest of the round was an agonizing portrait of a man slipping slowly down an icy slope, unable to stop. There were no outright disasters, no balls in the man-made ponds or the centuries-old cactus plants lining the fairways, just barely missed greens, weak chips and missed putts. On this day, at least, he definitely could have used Pavin's short game.
As late as the 13th, Sessions was still keeping up an optimistic line of chatter. "Eagle hole coming up, and two fairly easy birdie holes," he said, but by 16 it was apparent he had no chance. His stride slowed, his shoulders slumped. A nice par at 18 got him home in 76. The scoreboard showed that Todd Demsey, the 1993 NCAA champion, had shot a spectacular 64. There were a number of 68s, requiring a playoff for the three other spots.
Sessions's flight back to Denver was not till seven, but he saw no point in hanging around. "I'm going to get some Mexican food and maybe a margarita," he said. "I'll be in Phoenix in two weeks. Why? I love the challenge. Trying is what makes me the most happy."