**Heads up, friends…this is a long blog entry…but it is worth getting to the end!**
Everyone who knows me for more than a day knows how much I love the game of golf. I was introduced to the game the summer before my junior year of high school by my dear friend Marty O’Dwyer. He grew up playing golf with his grandparents, and back then we were connected at the hip. I was a baseball player up to that point, but my love of the game was overshadowed by my struggles with my dad, who was my coach and who wanted me to be a baseball player. Out of pure spite, I was ready to give it up, and golf came along at just the right time.
I was terrible when I started, but I absolutely loved it, and I began practicing every chance I could. I swung wedges in the house, to my mother’s dismay, as she feared I would rip up the carpet or hit the ceiling. I hit balls in the field next to our subdivision, and I played as much as I could. Unfortunately, we were poor, so playing meant depleting a good portion of my tiny bank account, and it only happened every so often that year.
Then I caught a break. My high school physics teacher, the great Neil Ellis, was the golf coach, and he gave me the chance to play on the junior varsity team, which meant playing every day the spring of my junior year. And then I caught another break. Our local golf course, Royal Meadows, had a stupid-good deal for high school golfers: $50 for all-you-can-play during the summer. Are you serious? I found $50 and played just about every day that summer. My good fortunes carried over into my senior year, when I got lucky on the right day to qualify for the State Tournament.
And then another break. After transferring to William Jewell College my freshman year to play basketball for the legendary Larry Holley, I decided to try out for the golf team that spring. The golf coach at that time was Bill Skolaut, a seasoned teaching pro who had briefly played on tour and was an accomplished player in his own right. He was my first and only teacher in the game.
We qualified for the NAIA National Championship my sophomore year, and four years after picking up a golf club, I found myself teeing off at famed Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I swear, every player in that tournament thought he was on the fast track to becoming a professional golfer, and I was no different.
I moved to Abilene, Texas, after graduation to work with Charles Coody, the 1971 Master Champion, and to take my shot at becoming a professional. It wasn’t long after that I realized the difference between a good golfer (me) and a great one, and my dream ended.
Fast forward 20 years to yesterday, long after my dreams of playing professional golf have been laid to rest. I took my daughters to the Web.com Tour’s Junior Clinic at the KC Golf Classic at Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate. As we waited for the event to begin, I stood in awe of the professionals hitting balls onto the range with effortless power, and my mind began to wander back to those dreams of old, wondering what it would be like to be one of those guys getting it dialed in before the tournament begins on Thursday.
My daughters saw something else, and my youngest daughter, in particular, wanted to talk to them. She grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, Daddy!”, and so we went. There were four or five pros waiting on the range as well, the ones who agreed to work with the massive sea of young kids, standing beside their golf bags so giddy it looked like they were full of sugar. One of the pros seemed a little more approachable than the others, so I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Sir, my little girl would like to meet you.”
As this tall, athletic young man turned his focus away from his conversation with his fellow pros to meet this young fan, I could tell right away there was something special about him. He gladly accepted our invitation to chat, lowered his tall frame down to one knee to be the same height as Naomi, and shook her hand, asking her name. As Naomi stared at his massive Srixon golf bag, he pulled it over and asked her which club she would like to see. “All of them!” Naomi said. As a gentle giant, the 6’4″ pro out of Kentucky smiled a laugh and started to remove the head covers from all of his woods and his putter. He pulled out a wedge so Naomi could hold it and see it up close.
As she examined the wedge, she asked, “What is this one for?” Jared kindly explained that a gap wedge hits the ball a little farther than a sand wedge, but not quite as far as a pitching wedge, and then he explained that he had four wedges in his bag, the last one being a lob wedge. Naomi asked, “What’s a lob wedge?”, to which Jared replied, “It’s for when you have to hit the ball high and stop it on the green real quick.” Watching these two interact, I couldn’t help but become a fan of Jared’s.
As the conversation turned to whatever Naomi wanted to say, in which she is quite excellent, the Junior Clinic started and our brief interaction ended with a hand shake, best wishes for the week, and a sincere thank you from me. We enjoyed the clinic and the trick shot artists, and then we headed home for the night.
As a fan of the game, I wanted to learn Jared’s story, where he played in college and how he made it to the tour. I learned that Jared played college golf at Murray State University in Kentucky, and he had been out on tour for five years. I perused his stats and his results, wanting to see how he made it to the Web.com Tour, and I learned some interesting details about Jared’s journey into the professional rankings.
In 2013, Jared won twice on the NGA Hooters Carolina Tour before qualifying for the 2014 Web.com Tour season. In 17 starts that year, he only made 2 cuts and earned less than $5000 for the season, which would have led most players to give up at that point, believing they weren’t good enough to make it. But Jared persisted, playing the McKenzie Tour in Canada in 2014, but the results weren’t much better: 5 made cuts in 10 tournaments and annual winnings just north of $7000.
In 2016, he made 3 cuts in just 5 events between the McKenzie Tour and the Web.com Tour, earning a little under $5000, but Jared persevered. In 2017, on the PGATour Latinoamerica, Jared began to see the results of his hard work, making the cut in 13 of 16 events, with six top-10 finishes, including two runner-ups and his first victory in a PGATour sanctioned event, the BMA Jamaican Classic. His earnings were just shy of $100,000 for the season, and he finished second on the money list to earn a trip to the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament Finals.
This year, in his second full season on the Web.com Tour, Jared has made 12 cuts in 18 events, including two top-25s, and I have a feeling he’s going to add to that this week.
As is the case with most stories, the best details are saved for last, and the coolest thing I learned about Jared Wolfe yesterday had nothing to do with golf. You see, I am a Twitter stalker, following people I meet to watch their story play out on social media. So I found Jared on Twitter and tweeted him a quick thank you for spending a little time with Naomi. It’s one of the amazing aspects of social media – the ability to interact with athletes – and it’s my way of becoming more entrenched into the professional golfing community. Quite selfish of me, I know, but true.
In a matter of minutes, my phone began blowing up with Twitter notifications that people were liking and commenting on my tweet, and people liking those comments, and people commenting on those comments, all people I’d never heard of before. I started thumbing through the notifications, and here is what I read:
And then I clicked over to Jared’s twitter account and read this in his bio:
As a man who desperately wants to be a professional golfer, I thought the coolest thing about Jared was that he was a professional golfer. And it’s pretty cool he’s a Cardinals’ fan (Go Cards!). But the coolest thing about Jared Wolfe is not that he’s a professional golfer or a Cardinals’ fan, it’s that he is a follower of Jesus, and I will forever be grateful for the little gift God brought our way yesterday. Jared, we will be cheering for you this week, we will be rooting you on to reach your dreams of playing on the PGATour, and more importantly, we will be praying for you to continue to be a godly man out on Tour, and that God will give you more opportunities to impact people, especially little kids, like you did yesterday.
And if you made it this far, I encourage you to follow Jared, root for him, pray for him, and thank God for men like him out on Tour shining the light of Jesus to whomever God brings in his path.