My Take: Rico Hoey's road to the Web.com Tour

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My Take: Rico Hoey's road to the Web.com Tour

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My Take: Rico Hoey's road to the Web.com Tour

It’s hard to believe that less than half a year ago, I was still in college, finishing my amateur golf career at the NCAA Championship and enjoying my last few weeks at USC. And yet, just a few months later, I’ve experienced so much in my first season as a professional golfer, and I’m a step closer to achieving my dream of playing on the PGA Tour.

I’ve always dreamed of playing pro golf, but the decision to make it a reality came to me quickly during my senior season at USC. I thought about staying amateur for the summer, but decided to pursue my dream right away, turning pro and heading north to play on the Mackenzie Tour.

The Mackenzie Tour, which used to be called the Canadian Tour, is where a lot of players like me are starting their careers now. The top five players on the money list at the end of the year get their Web.com Tour cards, and the tournaments are set up just like a miniature PGA Tour event, with galleries, leaderboards, media, pro-ams and everything else. A lot of players who I looked up to in college – All-Americans like Robby Shelton, Lee McCoy, Jordan Niebrugge and so many more – were going to play there this year, and I knew the level of competition was going to be really high.

At first, competing as a professional came naturally to me. I started my pro career with a tie for eighth at the Bayview Place Cardtronics Open in Victoria and had top-10 finishes in four of my first five starts, including a tie for second at the Mackenzie Investments Open in Montreal. But as the season went on, I quickly learned that pro golf is about more than birdies and bogeys, and that traveling across the country is a bigger challenge than you might think.

Rico Hoey and caddie – and USC coach – Chris Zambri during the first round of stroke play of the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

In college golf, you’ve got your teammates around you to pick you up if you have a bad round. But in the pros, you’ve got to find a way to shoot a good score even if you don’t have your A-game, because it’s all up to you. Plus, you’ve got to find a way to manage your time and prepare yourself for a new tournament in a new city every week. You learn quickly that playing for a paycheck means a whole new level of responsibilities.

Fortunately for me, I had some great friends on the tour around me and some veterans to look up to who helped show me how to do things the right way. I knew that even during the weeks where I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, I was learning so much on and off the course and getting better every time I played.

Coming down to the end of the year at the Freedom 55 Financial Championship, I needed a win to crack the top 5 and earn my Web.com Tour card. I had played well through the year, but in order to make the jump to the next level, I needed to go out and do what I hadn’t been able to do yet – win.

For some reason, even though it all came down to that one last week, I wasn’t feeling the pressure. In fact, I was feeling as relaxed as ever and knew that if I could do my job, everything else would take care of itself. I was staying with my good pal Cody Blick, and when we got paired together for Friday’s second round, he shot 61 to take the lead. It was awesome to see and inspired me to go out on the weekend and give it everything I had.

On Saturday, it was my turn to go low, and I shot 62 to take the lead by three headed into the final round. With so much on the line at the last event of the year, I knew it would be tough to close it out, but I thought about everything I had learned and how it was all preparing me for this moment. As I prepared for the final round, I thought about everyone who had supported me through my journey and helped me get to this position, especially my family. I knew I had a lot going for me and just wanted to go out and give it my best and see what I could do.

Holding onto that lead was one of the toughest thing I’ve had to do in this game, and every time I looked at a leaderboard, someone was making a move to chase me down. But after I birdied the 17th hole, I had a two-shot lead and knew I could safely play for the win on 18. A few minutes later, I tapped in for the win and had accomplished my goal – I had won the tournament and moved into the top 5 to earn my Web.com Tour card.

Rico Hoey won the Freedom 55 Financial Championship to secure his Web.com Tour card via the Mackenzie Tour. (Claus Andersen/PGA Tour)

As soon as it was over, a wave of emotion washed over me. All I could think about was my family, coaches and everyone who helped me get here. I had achieved my goal and gotten one step closer to my dream, and it was all possible because of them. I’m so thankful for their support, and I can’t wait to show them how much it means by having an even greater year next season.

This year isn’t over for me yet, either. I’m going to play the Final Stage of Web.com Tour Q-School to try and improve my status and hopefully be fully exempt next year, and at the end of the year, I’ll be playing in the Aruba Cup, a Ryder Cup-style match-play event in Aruba that pits golfers from the Mackenzie Tour against their counterparts from the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. It’s going to be an awesome week of competition in an amazing place and a great chance to celebrate and reflect on what an amazing year this has been.

With everything that happened this year, I can’t wait to reflect on it all, enjoy the moment, and get right back to work on making next year even better.

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