Rookie Loar's journey finally comes full circle
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Note: This story appeared in the Feb. 17, 2012 issue of Golfweek. Loar won the Nationwide Tour's Panama Claro Championship on March 4.
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HONOLULU – We begin this story at the top.
The very top. The hat.
Specifically, the four hats stacked neatly into Edward Loar’s locker inside the clubhouse at Waialae Country Club.
Loar stared. Then laughed. Then realized: He had made it to the big leagues.
Four hats? He used to have four hats for an entire golf season back when he was spitting mini-tour dust or collecting Myanmarese kyat. Heck, he told friends there were times when he’d wear his hats into the shower, just to clean them of dirt and sweat, because they had to last the year. Now he had four for a few days in paradise.
Can you believe that?
Loar can, but being 34 and nearly 12 years into his pro career, he is not your typical PGA Tour rookie. The sense of entitlement is not there; the gratitude comes in buckets. He knows from where he came, as they say.
“It’s been an unbelievable adventure,” Loar said. “I’ve had so many great life experiences, playing in Asia for five years, just everywhere. Obviously, I hope everyone appreciates the opportunity to play out here (on the PGA Tour). I know I’ll fall into that category of being appreciative.”
He spoke while in the embrace of swaying palm trees and tropical warmth. Two weeks later, he would play at a $6 million tournament in San Diego. Then, on Feb. 9, his third tournament as a PGA Tour member found him at heaven on earth, playing in the star-packed AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
It has been a slow start, to say the least, because Loar has yet to make a cut. What he has done, however, is grasp an understanding of his new surroundings.
“This is a whole lot better than spectacular,” he said.
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Move the story nearer the beginning, to Loar’s collegiate days at Oklahoma State.
“The Big E from the Big D,” as some called Loar, a Dallas kid who swung from the left side and hit it to the other side of the earth. Long and powerful, he also was curiously absent when that part of the process known as “qualifying” rolled around.
In fact, “I only qualified for the (U.S.) Amateur once,” Loar said, and he conceded he didn’t impress in fall 1996 when he arrived in Stillwater.
“He was on the bench at the beginning, didn’t qualify for the lineup,” said Jay Loar, Edward’s father and former golf coach at SMU. “But for some reason, (OSU coach Mike) Holder saw something in him and put him in the lineup. He won his second tournament and went on to be NCAA Freshman of the Year.”
Explain that move, Coach Holder.
“He’s what I’d commonly refer to as ‘a gamer,’ ” Holder said. “Edward wouldn’t show up with his ‘A’ game to the qualifiers, but the bigger the stage, the better he’d play.”
In four years at OSU, Loar had five victories and was a second-team All-American three times. Following his first roommate, Bo Van Pelt, and preceding his next roommate, Charles Howell III, Loar was a Cowboy who figured to move seamlessly onto the next golf frontier.
“A ton of talent,” Howell said.
That opinion seems to be unanimous, yet what followed Loar’s graduation was an odyssey of failed trips to PGA Tour Q-School, productive tours in Canada and Asia, a one-year flirt with the Nationwide Tour, then an array of hardscrabble mini-tour stages.
“Unfortunately,” Jay Loar said, “there was no one to put him in the lineup on the pro tour.”
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So, arriving at the theme of the story, as Holder tells it: “I guess there’s no direct path to the PGA Tour.”
Or from Howell: “You can measure so much of the game as a science, but there’s a big part of the game that isn’t. The game is so hard, it will beat you up, so you’d better love it.”
Howell is on to that part of the Edward Loar story that offers a compelling explanation as to why he finally has arrived at his intended destination some 12 years into pro golf.
“He’s never lost the dream,” Jay Loar said. “He’s never stopped believing.”
Certainly, the dream traveled well, even over every pothole of disappointment. It’s left for Loar to answer why.
“I had all the accolades. I won a bunch of tournaments. But it’s a tough job, and there aren’t very many (spots on the PGA Tour) every year. Some guys catch on real quick, and some guys, obviously, it takes a little longer.”
When Loar failed at Q-School in 2001 and didn’t feel like doing the Canadian Tour again, a friend, Mike Christensen (now Kevin Streelman’s caddie) suggested they go to Asia. Loar went all in, and next thing he knew he was playing a tournament practice round with a former college teammate, Landry Mahan in Myanmar.
“First hole, there are guys with machine guns guarding the perimeter of the golf course,” Loar said.
In his Asian Tour debut, Loar lost in a playoff to Thongchai Jaidee, but it’s the memory of the soldiers and their weapons that stays with Loar, even as he settles into the comfort and riches of the PGA Tour. It humbles him, keeps him real.
“We’re so privileged to wake up in the USA every day,” Loar said. “No matter how big a struggle it is, it’s the best place on earth.”
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Loar offers a slice of this “global golf” business that usually is glamorized, but often isn’t, though he’s proud of his chapters:
• In Scotland, at Nairn Golf Club, site of the 1999 Walker Cup, where Scottish star Graham Rankin thought he could intimidate Loar with a stare colder than the wind off the Firth of Moray. Loar ripped 3-iron, sand wedge, holed a 3-foot birdie putt and went on to win, 4 and 3. Next day, a parade of seven Americans – including David Gossett, Matt Kuchar, Jonathan Byrd and Bryce Molder – lost. Only Loar won, 5 and 4, against Simon Dyson.
• In Bangkok in 2003, where Loar had two eagles and a birdie on his outward nine to close with 69 and win the Thailand Open.
• In South Korea in 2004, where Ernie Els was the star attraction and John Daly the defending champ, but Loar took the Kolon Korean Open title.
• In St. Andrews, Scotland, in 2006, where Loar tied for second at the Dunhill Links.
• And in a number of forgettable U.S. outposts where Loar in 2008 won four times in 14 Gateway Tour events.
It was that 2008 roll when Loar felt his dream was nearing fruition. “I felt I was a complete player,” he said. “I was probably playing the best golf of my life, and I shot 7 under in the first stage – and didn’t get through. It was the low point.”
Fast-forward the story three years, and Loar’s Q-School mood was at the other end of the spectrum.
Less confident with his game, more occupied with things at home – and for the best of reasons. His wife of five years, Melaney, was nearing the end of her pregnancy with triplets, and Loar was juggling a Nationwide Tour stop in Pittsburgh and Q-School pressure.
Loar made it home from Pittsburgh for the Sept. 5 birth of William (they call him Liam), James and Collins, their arrival 29 days early.
Liam came home from the hospital first, two days before Loar played at Q-School’s first stage.
After advancing through Q-School, Loar returned to Dallas to welcome home James, then moved into a hotel to prep for second stage, at nearby TPC Craig Ranch. “First time I’ve ever played a tournament at home and stayed in a hotel,” he said.
After the third round in what would be a successful tournament at Craig Ranch, Loar welcomed home daughter Collins. “Went from no house to a full house,” Edward said, laughing, but Jay Loar isn’t so sure there’s not a connection to Melaney’s pregnancy, the bustle around the house and his son’s first successful trip through Q-School.
“I’ve never seen him so focused,” Jay Loar said with pride. “I don’t have to brag on him, but he’s a great person. I have tremendous respect for him as a son, a husband, a father.”
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Which brings us to the unfinished chapter in Loar’s story. It’s all guesswork, of course, but Howell reunited with his former roommate for a practice round at the Sony and is optimistic.
“We hadn’t played together in years, but I felt like nothing has changed,” Howell said. “I’m shocked it’s taken him this long, but he’ll do extremely well, and he’ll win tournaments.”
It’s that sort of support that Loar has used like an anchor, and it’s why he has never wavered in his quest.
“I’ve always felt like I was going to be a PGA Tour player,” he said. “I’ve never had any real doubts, never been close to saying, ‘Well, I’m done.’ ”
Instead, you could say he’s just starting.