To a professional golfer, a players' card is a passport to the tour. Without it he is not eligible to compete, at least not regularly. Even with a card he is not necessarily in, for he must still qualify for a starting spot in any given event. But if he has no card, that 3¾-inch by 2½-inch piece of pasteboard stating that he is eligible to play in the tournaments of the Professional Golfers' Association, he does not even have the right to try to qualify.
Players earn their cards at the annual PGA school, for which the final examination is an arduous 108-hole tournament. Only the top finishers get their cards, the exact number depending on the overall ability of the class. The 1972 school was held in Napa, Calif, in October, and one of the contestants was 22-year-old Jim Simons, a Wake Forest graduate who as an amateur led the 1971 U.S. Open after three rounds, eventually finishing fifth, and who tied for 15th in last year's Open. At Napa, however, these impressive achievements were worthless. Simons was merely one of 81 golfers fighting for a chance to play the pro tour with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. Here is his story.
Thursday, Oct. 26
I'm scared. I've been that way since I drove up to the Silverado Country Club in Napa last Tuesday night. I've waited for this for a long time. I started playing golf when I was 3 years old in Butler, Pa., and I honestly can say that it didn't take me long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. There have been very few days in the last 15 or so years that I haven't worked at or thought about the game of golf. I've practiced in the snow, worn gloves because of the cold, chipped ice out of the cups on the greens, played in the drenching rain and planned my vacations and selected my college with the sport in mind. I'm just like a few thousand other kids my age who watched Arnold Palmer making miracles in the late 1950s and decided that was what they wanted to do, too. There have been a lot of days when I didn't feel like standing on a putting green under a broiling sun for two hours or hitting a bagful of practice balls and walking out and picking them up so I could hit them again. But I did it because I knew there were other guys on other putting greens or other practice ranges doing it—all for this week.
And now, if it's possible, I'm scared and I'm confident at the same time. I know that I should be able to play a little better than most of the people here. But there have been others who came to this tournament feeling that way and ended up disappointed. Former Amateur champion Bruce Fleisher and David Graham, who played for Australia's World Cup team, both failed in their first attempts at the qualifying school. There are 41 guys here this week who missed it in previous years and are back again. And there are some talented players who did not even make it this far. They were eliminated in one of the three regional qualifying tournaments held two weeks ago.
Friday, Oct. 27
The guys have been calling me Jim Brown. A bunch of us drove into San Francisco the other night for a little bit of bright lights, big city. We visited Chinatown and the North Beach area where they have all of these topless shows. Anyway, we ran into a couple of guys who looked sort of rough, and when they asked me my name, I blurted: "Jim Brown." So now everybody is calling me Jim Brown. Normally I'm a pretty cautious fellow, I guess. In San Francisco I hid my money in my shoe. I figured if anybody looked there I would need more than a sand wedge to get out of the trouble I was in. Last year Dave Clark and John Mahaffey went to New York City for the All-American Collegiate Golf Dinner, and they were mugged. Nothing like that happened to Eddie Pearce, Nate Starks, Jim Black or myself. We wound up at the Playboy Club. We all joined, although we won't be using our new memberships for a while. The trip was just a onetime thing. You don't want to work too hard and get all uptight this week, and at the same time you don't want to play around and forget why you're here. I've tried to think of everything that might give me an edge, including giving up caffeine for the week. Coffee tends to make me nervous, and many times soft drinks have had the same effect. So I'm on the wagon until the tournament is over.
One of my friends who is competing here, Larry Stubblefield from Hawaii, has a unique attitude about the players' school. Although he has had little amateur tournament experience, he refuses even to discuss the possibility of failure. Maybe that works for him, but I have to feel and know that fear about not succeeding. I want to worry about it all week. One thing I am worrying about right now is the number of spots we are playing for. We won't know until after the first two or three rounds are completed and the PGA announces the figure. I wish we knew now.
Saturday, Oct. 28
Today Tom Kite and I were discussing the different types of pressures the players here are experiencing. Tom, Eddie Pearce and I are mentioned by a lot of people as the "favorites" to do well. That adds a little pressure. In addition, we all have played well in international competition in the past few years and our records have helped us make some preliminary endorsement contacts. I have a contract with the Ford Motor Company, part of a group Ford calls the Young Thunderbirds. It includes Johnny Miller, Jerry Heard, Lanny Wadkins, Grier Jones and me, and if you look at the first four names on that list you will see that they averaged more than $100,000 apiece on the 1972 tour. Obviously, people expect me to do well, too. That adds to the pressure.