Happiness is knowing that your life is moving in the right direction. That's not an aphorism; it's a conclusion drawn last week from the unerasable smile of Boo Weekley, a 28-year-old pro from the Florida panhandle town of Milton. Seven years ago Weekley would put on a hard hat with a built-in flashlight, strap himself into a harness and be lowered on a rope by coworkers into the hot, dark confines of steel chemical tanks, where he scoured the walls with a hydroblaster. Last week, by way of contrast, Weekley started his work days with a walk on the beach at Waikiki. At day's end, after a round of golf and press interviews at nearby Waialae Country Club, he returned with his wife, Karyn, to a hibiscus-scented room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. "It's kind of different," Boo said. "I've never slept in nothing that costs $600, or whatever that room is."
Weekley's sense of displacement may have been extreme—when you've worked as the human equivalent of gum at the end of a stick, any job change feels like a promotion—but in most ways he was like any other PGA Tour rookie: excited, tentative and a little lost. The Sony Open was the first full-field tournament of the year, so it resembled registration day at Hogwarts School. Each player had a shiny new bronze belt clip with his name on it, proof that he was a Tour member in good standing. But some players looked at their clips more often than others, and some reflexively felt for the clip on their belts, as if afraid of pickpockets. Tour membership is not easily attained, nor is it easy to retain. At Waialae only 79 pros in the 144-man field were Tour members by dint of a top 125 finish on the 2001 money list. Thirty-four others had earned their Tour cards by finishing among the top 36 at last fall's PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament—a.k.a. Q school—in West Palm Beach, Fla. Fifteen more qualified off the final money list of the Buy.com tour.
Some new players were about as new as Newton. Blaine McCallister, 43, played his first Tour event in 1982 and has five Tour wins. Tommy Armour III, 42, first got his Tour card in '81. Others were international players who were rookies in name only. Hidemichi Tanaka has 15 wins on the Japanese tour and has played well in major championships. Peter Lonard was the leading money winner on the Australasian tour in 1996-97 You could spot these veterans by their self-assured strides and the fact that they didn't walk on the wrong side of gallery ropes or pull on door handles labeled PUSH.
The genuine newbies tried to look cool, but betrayed their inexperience with birdlike jerks of the head as they attempted to find their way around Waialae. "There's a lot of anxiety?' said Ian Leggatt, a rookie in 2001 who returned to Q school in the fall. "You don't know where to park; there's pressure to get in a practice round. I got lost a few times last year." Ben Crane, a promising newcomer with two Buy.com wins, left his player's clip in his hotel room on Jan. 9. "How the hell did you get in without a clip?" asked fellow rookie Pat Perez. Crane shrugged and said, "I just sort of walked in."
Actually, Crane had opened his wallet and pulled out his Tour identification card, a rarely seen piece of plastic with his picture on it. Even some Tour officials aren't sure if this card is the so-called Tour card that players are so desperate to have and hold. "The clip is what they all use," said Joel Schuchmann, a media official. "I've never even seen the card."
Whether it's a clip or a card, it's the stuff mat dreams are made of. Ask Stephen Gangluff, a 26-year-old first-year man from Staunton, Va. As recently as nine months ago Gangluff worked as a $6-an-hour bag boy at the Wintergreen (Va.) Resort. "I was sick of paying to play the mini-tours, worn out, and I didn't have any sponsors," Gangluff said. "I figured I had better go to work." In April, however, he got through Monday qualifying at the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic and shot four rounds of par or better, winning $14,365. He later qualified for the U.S. Open in Tulsa, where he finished 79th and earned another eight grand. Finally Gangluff went to Q school, finished 32nd, pocketed $25,000 and got his Tour card. "It's amazing," he said at Waialae. "Overwhelming."
Another newcomer, Kent Jones, 35, of Albuquerque, followed a long and winding road to the Tour. In the mid-1990s he and his wife, JoAnna, and a mutt named Lexy traveled the Canadian and Hooters tours with a fifth-wheel RV attached to their pickup truck. "We drove in caravans and stayed at campgrounds," said Jones, who has since yo-yoed between the PGA and Buy.com tours. "It was a great experience, but everything on this Tour is bigger and better, and it's an opportunity to play for a lot more money."
For pure story value, though, no one topped Thomas Brent (Boo) Weekley, whose backwoods locutions and wide-eyed naivet� invite comparisons with Gomer Pyle. At a banquet in December, after he had won his Tour card at Q school, Weekley chatted with Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Afterward Boo asked who the nice man was. Told that Finchem was the commissioner, Boo said, "Yeah? Of what?" When he isn't hitting the ball high and far, Boo offers to help at Weekley Pharmacy, his father's drugstore in Milton. But Karyn says Boo isn't exactly a natural at the cash register. "We pretty much tell him to leave, because he causes such a stir," she said at Waialae. "It makes his dad mad, and none of us gets anything done."
Weekley began his Tour career last Thursday with a snap hook off the 10th tee—"I thought I done killed somebody," he said—and he misclubbed so often in the high winds that he shot a six-over-par 76 despite an eagle on die final hole. He bounced back with a 67 on Friday. That wasn't good enough to survive the 36-hole cut, but it reminded everyone that he got to Honolulu on game. "He's no joke," said Phil Tataurangi, a New Zealander with seven years of Tour experience. "If you get through Q school, you've got the goods to play out here."
Every class has its standouts, and anybody who can read a pairing sheet expects big things from Heath Slocum, Pat Bates and Chad Campbell, who each won three Buy.com tournaments in 2001. Slocum, a high school teammate of Weekley's, set a Buy.com record of 106 consecutive holes without a bogey last year, and in one three-week stretch he went 21, 23 and 23 under par. ("Boo's an extrovert, and I'm an introvert," says Slocum, who plans to travel with his colorful pal this season.) Bates, a lively 32-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., with shoulder-length blond hair and a habit of writing Bible verses on his golf balls for identification purposes, was the only player to shoot four rounds of par or better at last year's Buy.com Tour Championship, which he won by three strokes. As for Campbell, who hails from Dallas, if his No. 1 ranking on the Buy.com tour didn't convince people that he can play, his second-place finish in November at the PGA Tour's Southern Farm Bureau Classic did.