UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – What happens to a dream deferred? That’s the opening line to a Langston Hughes poem, but it just as easily could tell the story of Tim O’Neal.
For as long as he can remember, O’Neal, 42, has dreamed of competing in the U.S. Open and playing on the PGA Tour.
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
A year ago, O’Neal, who is black, made it to the U.S. Open sectional at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. He stayed overnight at a hotel 10 miles from the course, and headed there an hour and a half before his tee time. But there was an accident that caused an oil spill and shut down the highway. O’Neal arrived 30 minutes late for his tee time and was disqualified.
Or fester like a sore – and then run?
That’s not even close, however, to O’Neal’s biggest hard-luck story. His dream of becoming a Tour member was on the verge of coming true in 2000. All O’Neal needed was to make bogey on the final hole of the Nicklaus Tournament Course during the final round of the 2000 Q-School finals at PGA West. Instead he knocked his tee shot into a hazard and made triple bogey to miss earning his card by two shots. He came tantalizingly close again in 2004.
Does it stink like rotten meat?
O’Neal has conditional status on the Web.com Tour this season, but he has yet to get into a single event. He has failed in his attempts to Monday qualify and played most of his competitive golf on the Swingthought.com Tour. Actor Will Smith sponsored him from 2000 until 2002, but those days are long gone. During the past decade, O’Neal’s life as an itinerant pro has included stints on the Asian Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, eGolf Tour and European Professional Development Tour. He has won tournaments in Colombia, Chile and Morocco.
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
O’Neal concedes he has come close to calling it quits. In fact, he didn’t play professionally in 2011. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want to,” he said. But he had no status, no backer and no money. so he took a teaching job at Southbridge Golf Club in his native Savannah, Ga.
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
In May, O’Neal was the medalist at his local qualifier, shooting 63. He returned to the same Rockville, Md., sectional qualifier where disaster struck a year ago, though he wisely picked a hotel closer to the course. It took a 12-foot birdie putt on the third hole of a playoff with Joshua Persons (who subsequently got in as an alternate) for O’Neal to qualify for the U.S. Open for the first time in his 18-year career as a pro. He called his mother, who burst into tears. He told his two kids – a daughter, 13, and a son, 9. “My son asked, ‘Are you going to play golf with Tiger Woods?’ I told him, ‘Not with him, but against him,’ ” O’Neal said.
Or does it explode?
That’s the final line of Hughes’ poem. This dream is deferred no more. On Thursday, the wait will end. O’Neal played a practice round with Bubba Watson on Tuesday. They used to travel together when both competed on the Nationwide Tour in 2005. A decade later Watson is a two-time Masters champion, and he was one of the first people to congratulate O’Neal on making his first major. What could this week mean to O’Neal?
“If I play well here, this could make my whole year,” he said.
Spoken like a man whose dream is alive and well.