Day in the Life: Gavin Coles

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PALM COAST, Fla. – It’s dark, cold and windy as Gavin Coles opens his door early Oct. 30 to embark on the penultimate event of the 2008 PGA Tour season.

The Ginn sur Mer Classic is at the bottom of the PGA Tour food chain, a fact further emphasized a couple weeks later when the event is one of just two left off the Tour’s 2009 docket.

After spending the year shuffling between the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour, Coles’ status on the Big Show is also in question. He’s exempt on the Nationwide Tour after winning the ‘08 Louisiana Open, his fourth victory on the circuit.

This isn’t the glorious side of the PGA Tour, but life’s hardly half-bad for Coles. Even the ‘Angry Ant’ can appreciate the view as he leaves his seventh-floor condo, the sun just starting to rise over a navy-blue Atlantic.

This isn’t time to linger, though. The mercury hasn’t pushed past 40, and the crisp northeasterly breeze makes it feel even colder.

Plus there’s work to be done – and a decision to be made. Coles is outside the top 150 on the PGA Tour money list and outside the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list. Based on his Ginn finish, he’ll have to decide whether playing Disney or the Nationwide Tour Championship will give him a better chance at keeping his PGA Tour card (he’s already exempt on the Nationwide Tour based on his victory).

“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Coles, wearing black pants and a black, short-sleeved windshirt. “So I just go out and play golf.”

• • •

Coles gets in his black Chrysler 300C courtesy car for the 10-minute to The Conservatory. You wouldn’t know he’s a man two weeks from losing his PGA Tour card. Coles spends the car ride ribbing his passengers while Pink and Nickelback play on the satellite radio.

Coles arrives just before 8 a.m. He likes to get to the course at least an hour before his tee time, which is scheduled for 9:18 a.m. off the course’s 10th tee.

“I like to get to the golf course early, ... relax, sit down, have something to eat,” Coles said. On this day, it was scrambled eggs, toast, potatoes and a cup of coffee from the buffet in the clubhouse.

Then Coles heads to the fitness trailer for 10 minutes of stretching, joking, “I’m trying to get to 5-4 and a half.” Between his sarcasm and stature, it’s easy to see how Coles earned his nickname.

Coles then heads over to the putting green before finishing his warm-up on the driving range, seemingly impervious to the much-documented pressure associated with this time of year. He and his caddie debated whether the Red Sox should re-sign catcher Jason Varitek; when a reporter jokingly suggests he hit balls at the range picker, Coles starts punching drivers.

As the group ahead of him tees off, Coles finishes hitting a half wedge shot and says, “It’s time to walk, eh?” and heads to the 10th tee.

• • •

There are about 30 people around the tee as Coles, rookie Martin Laird and local club pro Rod Perry prepare to tee off.

“This is the biggest crowd we’ve had so far today,” the first-tee announcer says. They’re there for Perry, not Coles, by far the longest-tenured pro in the group.

Coles, 195th on Tour in driving distance, never expect sto be a big draw. “Chicks dig the long ball, so I might as well be short, fat and ugly, because no one’s going to come and watch me,” he says after the round.

His lack of distance doesn’t seem well-suited for the 7,663-yard The Conservatory, which is playing even longer thanks to an unusual northeasterly breeze. But Coles opens with a steady 71 thanks to a solid short game. His only bogey of the day was a three-putt on the par-5 18th, his ninth hole. He birdied the next, a par-5, then parred the next eight holes, shooting 1 under despite hitting just 11 greens.

His round ends at 2:38 p.m., 5 hours and 20 minutes after he teed off.

“It’s not like the way I performed with my iron play that I was going to make a lot of birdies,” Coles said while eating lunch in the caddie trailer, an RV converted to include a complete kitchen inside and offering basic fare at prices that suit a caddie’s wages. “The course was tough as nails today. It was bloody hard. I kept hitting wood after wood.”

After lunch, Coles heads to the range to straighten out his iron game.

“I’m going to hit some iron shots since I didn’t hit too many of them the last nine holes,” Coles said. “And when I got an iron in my hand I didn’t know what I was doing.”

• • •

It’s 3:22 p.m. – six hours, four minutes after his tee time – when Coles walks on the range to hit balls. He spends the next 29 minutes hitting balls and joking with almost anyone – player, caddie, volunteer or fan – that walks by.

“During the tournament, at the end of the year, it’s not the right time to be making any changes, so I don’t think I need to be out there grinding to fix something that’s not broken,” Coles said. “I’m pretty low maintenance. I’m 40. I don’t want to be out there grinding. If was 25, I would. But there comes a time where, ya, it’s a job, but you have to enjoy what you’re doing.”

Coles crosses a cart path to reach the chipping green, where he hits repeated flop shots close to a hole cut just over a bunker. He chats with rookie Brett Rumford, and demonstrates technique to his fellow Aussie. Coles then heads to the putting green, where he wraps up his session by making a series of 5-footers before sneaking over to startle another player’s caddie, who’s trying to sneak a quick nap in the rough.

It’s almost 4:30, and Coles’ work day is over. He walks into The Conservatory’s clubhouse to gather his things before getting back into that black Chrysler 300C to head back to the condo. He calls his family, discussing the same topics – baseball games, computer problems – as any other husband and father.

There will be limited for reflection after the round. Coles showers when he gets home, then meets friends for dinner before calling it a night.

“It’s time to go home and put my feet up, and leave it back there,” Coles said about his round. “It was a grind out there today.”

• • •

The same can be said for the next three rounds. Coles finishes with rounds of 71, 72 and 74 to finish T-35 at even par. He finishes T-16 at the Nationwide Tour Championship, which means another trip to Q-School, where Coles places 40th.

Like the Ginn sur Mer, he won’t be back on the PGA Tour in 2009.

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