Nearly every kid who has ever played a sport has had the dream of becoming a professional athlete.
They dream of being on television and playing for a large crowd and big money. They dream of fame and maybe even a contract for new athletic shoes.
And for a very few, this dream becomes a reality.
But what happens to the other dreamers? What happens to their visions of fame and fortune?
Some set them aside after high school or college. Others keep going.
Our son is one who has kept going, but it hasn’t been the childhood fantasy he expected. He always knew it would be hard to pursue his dream of playing professional golf, but what he didn’t know was how truly challenging it would be.
Our son, Casey, just got home from Thailand.
By home, I mean the United States. We haven’t seen him since July except for a brief overnight in October.
Our son is a professional golfer.
Sounds exciting, right?
When Casey was a toddler, he had a set of Little Tikes golf clubs. We had a deep backyard and he would smack the club to the ball with such force, it would sail. Friends and family would “ooh” and “ahh” and say he had a future in golf.
He quickly outgrew the plastic clubs and golf became the sport his dad played. Casey focused on football and baseball with his friends until his dad took him to join his Sunday morning golf fun at Hazy Hills Golf Course. Nearly every sunny Sunday morning, my husband, along with a few buddies, would get up early to play a round at this little nine-hole course near El Paso. At some point, Casey became a regular player.
The fall he entered high school, Casey toyed with playing football but decided on golf. I remember asking another mom if his scores in the high 90s were enough to get him on the JV golf team. Apparently they were.
Casey golfed four years at Bloomington High School. He also played baseball, which caused a little bit of time at the start of each season as he adjusted his swing from one sport to another.
At the end of high school, Casey decided he wanted to play golf in college so he scoped out schools that might give him a little financial incentive to join them. After looking at a few different programs, it was agreed Black Hawk College in Moline was the best fit for him.
Casey worked his way up to the number one spot on the community college team. His coach, Gary Huber, was impressed. I remember him telling Casey’s dad and me that after a round, whether it was practice or a tournament, when the other boys were sitting around the clubhouse, he always found Casey back on the driving range or the putting green. He loved our son’s work ethic. (Insert proud parent moment here).
After two years in the Quad Cities, Casey found another good fit at Lewis University in Romeoville.
As a transfer student, he was an unknown commodity and each week he had to earn a spot in the top five to play in scheduled matches. Again, with hard work and commitment, he moved his way up to the No. 1 spot.
Graduation came in the spring of 2011 and Casey headed out on the road to play the Dakotas Tour events in the Midwest.
Most people don’t realize that unless a player has a financial sponsor or sponsors, they pay their own entry fees. This might be a few hundred dollars or a thousand. Granted, if they win, the prize money will more than cover that, but if they don’t make the cut, or finish too far down in the results, they’re just out the money. Not to mention the cost of transportation and hotels.
It wasn’t until later I discovered that occasionally, my son had slept in his car or stayed at a 24-hour fitness center to avoid the cost of hotels. He also learned to live on peanut butter sandwiches.
And only last year, did he finally part with his 2003 vehicle with close to 300,000 miles on it.
Initially, Casey spent winters building up his finances so he could compete in events during the spring and summer.
One winter he decided no work would be beneath him so he took on three odd jobs, often on the same day. He would start early in the morning stocking shelves at Macy’s, followed by handing out samples at Sam’s Club, followed by delivering pizzas for Domino’s until the wee hours of the morning. A few hours later, he would head back to Macy’s and start the routine over. His car became a closet for the different clothes he needed.
Casey has to be one of the most determined people I’ve ever known. He has lived on next to nothing to follow his dream. He has made more sacrifices than most people are willing to make to turn a dream into a reality. He proudly admits to being a minimalist and needing very few “things” to get by.
In recent years, Casey worked as an assistant professional at Crestwicke Country Club in Bloomington. That led to winter work as an assistant pro at Eagle Creek Country Club in Naples, Florida, which lead to summer work at the famous Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In between his responsibilities at the clubs, he works on his PGA certification to become a head club professional and plays tournaments, typically finishing in the Top 10 with rounds in the 60s.
Last month, Casey took a chance to try to qualify for the Asian Tour. Using his own money, he traveled solo and spent Christmas in a foreign country. Casey had never traveled outside the United States.
The 2019 Asian Qualifying School was held in Hua Hin, Thailand, just south of Bangkok. Casey’s goal was to finish in the Top 70 and earn status to play on the Asian Tour.
In Stage One, Casey shot 71-70-73-66 to qualify for the second stage by a couple shots. He finished tied for 26th place, jumping 19 spots with that final round. He not only fought his putter, he was fighting a cold, but that final round of 66 pushed illness aside and determination back to the forefront.
Stage Two was another five rounds with cuts after the second and fourth rounds. Shooting 69-71-75, Casey needed another low round to get inside the Top 70 to play on the final day. He came close, shooting 68 but it wasn’t enough and he finished his Thailand experience tied for 99th place out of more than 800 starting players.
Casey is now back in Florida about to start working the winter season in Naples, but he says he will try again next year to earn his Asian Tour card.
In the meantime, he’ll be the guy on the driving range and the putting green as the sun sets behind him because “a dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)
To follow Casey Pyne’s professional golf career, check out his Facebook page: Casey Pyne Golf.