SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – After grinding it out for seven consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, Bill Lunde had big plans this week back home in Las Vegas.
“I’d be sitting on a couch right now,” he said, laughing. “My wife had taken a week off from work, and we were going to spend the week together.”
They still will, only it will be in Wisconsin, at the 92nd PGA Championship. Plans change.
Lunde’s wild five-year ride – from quitting the game to working a 9-to-5 job in the real world to working his way back out on Tour again – met with an interesting chapter on Sunday, when he shot 66 to win the Turning Stone Resort Championship in New York for his first PGA Tour title. Tuesday, he was in Wisconsin, ready for eight in a row.
“You’re never that far off,” shrugged Lunde, 34.
Well, not totally true. A couple of years ago, Lunde was as far away from the PGA Tour as one could get. In fact, after a dismal year on the Nationwide Tour in 2005, he quit the game, took a job at a title company (bad timing there) and quickly learned how the “other half” lived.
He did learn this much about the difference between real-world labor and playing professional golf for a living: “Just working made me appreciate golf more and the lifestyle and the opportunities we have. I mean, your life could change in one week. You know, when you’re working, you do your job really well one week, unless you’re in sales you’re going to get the same pay. And out here, it can really have an impact on your life.”
How so? Well, not only did Lunde make $720,000 for his victory, but he earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption (through 2012) and berths in such upper-tier tournaments as next year’s SBS Championship at Kapalua, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship, Crowne Plaza Invitational and The Memorial.
Oh, it also earned him an 11th-hour berth into this week’s PGA Championship.
“It’s only the second major I’ve ever played in,” he said Tuesday after hitting balls on the range. The other was the 2003 U.S. Open, where he missed the cut. “I didn’t really know what to think when they came up to me and told me I had a spot in the PGA. I was like, ‘Really? … because I’m OK with going home and everything else.’ ”
He laughed at the recollection.
“The extra bonus of having a spot in this tournament was another perk, one too good for me to pass up.”
Of all the nice side dishes that winning delivers – better tournaments, the money, tee times with other Tour winners – a man who begins Jan. 1 each season fighting to make a living and keep a card knows which one he will value the most.
“I still don’t even fully understand all of it,” he said, “except that I know I have a two-year exemption. For a golfer to know he has a job, somewhere to play, especially on the greatest tour in the world, for two years, it’s an amazing thing.”
It’s a long way from a thirtysomething man not knowing what he really wanted to do in life. He was talented at golf, but used to wrestle with the work he needed to put in to stay good at it. He’d sometimes put in 30 minutes hitting balls, look at his watch and call it a day.
What brought him back? He lost his 9-to-5 job in 2007 and needed something to do. He figured trying to make some money playing golf would be better than sitting around the house doing nothing. And he took right to it again.
“It just felt natural and felt like that’s what I should be doing,” he said. “And I’m sure part of that’s because that’s all I ever did.”
He also made a pact with himself: If he played golf again, he’d have a better, more positive attitude. So the journey began. A member of UNLV’s national championship 1998 squad, Lunde joined the now-defunct Butch Harmon Vegas Tour in ‘07 and promptly won “like 6 of 11 events.”
From there, the snowball kept rolling, and growing.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, if you’re winning, you’re playing great golf,” he said. “So that gave me a lot of confidence.”
He went to PGA Tour Q-School at the end of 2007 and missed his card by two shots, earning Nationwide status. He started quickly there, and in the summer he won in Columbus, Ohio, where he chipped in on the final hole, to secure a PGA Tour card for 2009. He then kept his card last year, earning $825,691.
When he’d called Ping to ask to be outfitted for clubs at the outset of his comeback, Lunde received a reconditioned set other pros had tried and returned. When he earned a Nationwide Tour card at 2007 Q-School, Ping gave him an upgrade.
“We have a running joke in our trailer,” said Matt Rollins, a Ping tour rep and an old friend of Lunde’s. “When he’s not hitting it that great, we say, quick, let’s find him some used clubs to try.”
This season, Lunde pretty much was muddling along, searching, as he got to Turning Stone. He’s been hitting the ball OK, but was not stringing four solid rounds together or finishing like he knew he could. Pretty spent after playing six straight weeks, he thought he’d give it one more week and looked forward to getting back home, to the couch.
Rollins texted Lunde at Turning Stone and reminded him to go out on the course and have some fun. That’s all. Lunde didn’t even think about winning until he got to the back nine Sunday and was right in the thick of things. “That’s when all the fun began,” he said.
For Lunde, being a tournament winner on the PGA Tour may take some getting used to. It’s tall cotton, as they say. Tuesday, as he made his way across a long bridge that leads to the practice area, he joked to a friend that the fans probably thought he was another club pro here for the week.
Then a voice arose from the crowd: “Hey, Champ!”
After all Bill Lunde had been through, it had an awfully nice ring.