published Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Chattanooga golfers strive for PGA Tour

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    Paul Apyan practices chipping the ball during a practice round at Black Creek Club golf course.
    Photo by Staff File Photo.
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The public perception of a professional golfer is that of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or Rory McIlroy hopscotching the planet on private jets and earning million-dollar paychecks -- sometimes just for showing up.

The second perception of a pro golfer is head professional at a country club.

There's also another type of professional golfer, and that kind populates Chattanooga-area courses -- the mini-tour player. He's the guy with the dream of playing alongside Jim Furyk, Jordan Spieth and Ian Poulter.

At least a dozen golfers with close connections to Chattanooga are playing on professional tours with the goal of making it big.

"Everybody is moving in the right direction, and we all keep moving along and plugging along," said former Hixson High School golfer Paul Apyan. "Everybody is trying to get to the PGA Tour. We all keep moving along and plugging along.

"We have a good group of guys here in Chattanooga who all want the same thing."

That's stardom, success and a spot on the PGA Tour.

"All of us young guys are at different points in our life and in our young careers," he said. "But we all want to be playing with the likes of [PGA Tour winners] Harris English and Scott Stallings."

English played for Baylor School. Stallings is from Oak Ridge and starred at Tennessee Tech.

Former McCallie School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer Bryce Ledford has been chasing the dream for at least five years. But as an expectant father, he has a new perspective.

Former UTC golfer Steven Fox, the 2012 U.S. Amateur champion, has a different perspective. His USGA title allowed him to play in eight PGA Tour Events and live the life of luxury at times.

But that's not his day-to-day status. He's bouncing (based on performance) from the elite tours to the mini-tours and those in between to earn a paycheck. He's played in events on the PGA Tour with million-dollar payouts, Web.com events, PGA Tour Canada events and the eGolf Tour.

"The gap is huge," Fox said. "And that's just from a money standpoint. Each of the PGA tours gives you something to graduate from and something to graduate to.

"Mini-tour events are really just a big money game."

Sam Bedwell, a former Lee University player from Ooltewah, is the most recent Chattanooga-based golfer to earn the top prize in a professional event. He won $1,300 with his Open Golf Atlanta Tour championship on July 1. Bedwell shot 5 under par in the one-day tournament at Bradshaw Farms.

By comparison, Si Woo Kim earned $1,410 by finishing last of those making the cut in the Web.com Tour's Nova Scotia Open.

Fox almost made the cut in that tournament last week, but a quadruple-bogey on his 34th hole forced him to miss the cut.

"I classify myself as pro golfer," Fox said. "I have some Web.com status. But we're all geared toward Q-School for Web.com later this year."

Chattanooga, for its population size, has an abundance of young and aspiring professional golfers. English is a fixture on the PGA Tour. Luke List, another Baylor graduate who grew up in Ringgold, is a stalwart on the Web.com Tour and spent a full season on the PGA Tour. Fox has the next most-recognizable name in the game.

Apyan, Bedwell, Ledford, Ryan Thornton, Matt Hughes, reigning Chattanooga Men's Metro champion Caleb Roberson, former Mocs Stephan Jaeger, Jonathan Hodge and Derek Rende and a few other area golfers are chasing the dream. They're doing so by traveling to courses in the middle of nowhere, with little financial support, playing in events with few caddies and fewer volunteers.

"You call the pro shop looking for a place to get breakfast like McDonald's, and they tell you about a Mom-and-Pop place," Roberson said. "Then there's traveling and bunking up with two or three other dudes.

"It's not like you're on the PGA Tour."

Maybe someday.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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