It figured to be a very dull year, but on Christmas Day, Schmidt's good friend, the aforementioned Matt Amen, showed up at Schmidt's tiny Newport Beach, Calif., apartment carrying an expensive golf shirt in a gift box. "I'll give you this shirt if you'll give me $50," Amen said. Within minutes, Amen was bent over Schmidt's PC, and the $50 was out there in the ether.
"And that," Schmidt says with a smile, "was my introduction to online poker."
MARTIN PICKS up the story in 2005, when the wannabe poker pro moved into his spare bedroom. Schmidt set up his laptop in the room and began tiling poker tables on the screen, playing four to eight hands at a time and earning more on some days than Martin was averaging per tournament on the Nationwide tour. "Dusty basically never left my home," Martin says. "He'd literally play poker all day and all night. I'd come home in the afternoon, and I'd hear this sound"—Martin pounds his fist hard on the table, thud, thud, thud—"which was Dusty grinding away at small stakes. Getting frustrated, but always getting better."
Schmidt says he was simply trying to improve: "When I moved in, I think I was making as much as I'd made working for my father, about $40,000 a year."
What does Schmidt make today? "About a buck a hand," he says—which sounds like nothing until he explains that he now plays 12 or more hands at a time on two monitors. As Leatherass, he racks up 1,200 high-stakes hands per hour and 7,000-plus hands a day. "If you play 200 days a year," he continues, "that's 1.4 million hands per year. I actually play 1.5 million to two million hands a year."
At any given time Schmidt has 50 or 60 thousand of his dollars spread across the tables. "We work on incredibly small margins," he says, making his dollar-per-hand sound like a supermarket chain's annual report. "On a given hand the math dictates that I'll make a $40 profit in the long run. But I have to risk $10,000 to make that $40." Which, he quickly adds, he doesn't hesitate to do. "I'll take that edge every time. I play enough hands to make it statistically significant."
To Martin, who watched his oddball tenant study poker manuals and memorize math tables for hours on end, Schmidt was a model of entrepreneurial drive. "Most people, they'll put in some hours," Martin says, "but Dusty has probably played more online hands than anybody in history. He went from amateur to top 10 in a very short time, and the money went from a hundred grand a year to a million."
If someone had whispered those numbers to the Kid on Saturday night, it might have occurred to him that a man accustomed to calling a $10,000 raise on one table while running algorithms for another 11 tables in his head probably isn't going to crumble when you shout, "All in!" over a $50 stack of chips. On the other hand, those watching Leatherass school the Kid that night would have been wrong to think that the game was too slow and cheap for the online pro. "I have such a competitive desire that it wouldn't have mattered if we were playing for nickels," Schmidt said afterward. "I had fun."
THEY'RE STILL golfers, but golfers consigned to the What If tour. Martin, 36, retired from tournament play in 2006 with one Nike tour victory, a successful campaign to use a motorized cart on Tour, and a crowd-pleasing 23rd-place finish at the 1998 U.S. Open as his signal achievements. Now in his third year as men's golf coach at Oregon, Martin plays enough rounds at Eugene Country Club to notice an improvement in both his ball striking and putting—trends that have him toying with the idea of joining the Champions tour when he turns 50. (Mark your calendar: June 2, 2022.)
Schmidt, too, loiters at the edge of his former profession. He plays to a plus-four handicap, averaging a round a week at Pumpkin Ridge's private Witch Hollow course. He is also a founder and the president of 10thGreen.com, a year-old social networking site offering interactive content to amateur and professional golfers. The cofounder and video star of 10thGreen is one Casey Martin—because, according to Schmidt, "I couldn't come up with anybody in golf with more credibility."