BROUSSARD — When most people think of professional golf, it’s all private planes and courtesy cars, buffets in a palatial clubhouse and lush green fairways the color of cash from lucrative endorsements.
There is some of that. OK, a lot of that. It’s not roofing a house.
But for players like former LSU golfer Smylie Kaufman, it is a battle. A battle within yourself to keep on life support a dream that has burned since childhood. A dream that can turn on a week, a round, a single stroke.
Kaufman plays on the Web.com Tour, one rung down the pro golf ladder from the PGA Tour. He has conditional status, which means he can’t automatically get into any event he wishes, which means a few extra mental pins and needles.
Full-time status is the goal. Fellow former Tiger Curtis Thompson has it because of his results this season (currently 42nd on the Web.com money list). But for players like Kaufman, conditional status is a hard, uncertain way to make a living. It’s like walking on quicksand in pressed slacks.
“The struggle is real out there when you don’t have status,” Kaufman said. “You’re driving everywhere; you always feel like you’re behind the 8-ball. I’m able to block it out for the most part and play golf. You have to be able to do what you know you can do. It’s a matter of me believing I can do it.”
This week’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open here at Le Triomphe was the first U.S. stop on the Web.com Tour. The first five were in South America. Since not every player is willing to go there to play, Kaufman did, getting into three of four events.
But he missed the cut each time. In Chile he was first alternate, meaning he waited all day Thursday for a player to withdraw.
It never happened. That was a low point.
“It wasn’t fun at all,” said Kaufman, 23. “I was ready to be home, and I felt like I was going to get in and didn’t. But I did practice a lot.”
Waiting for the Birmingham, Alabama, native was a sponsor’s exemption in the Louisiana Open, one of four the tournament is allowed to give.
The pressure on Kaufman to make the most of it was enormous. To improve your status you have to make money, and you can’t make money if you can’t play in tournaments, thus improving your status. Pro golf can be vicious circle, cutting off your circulation with a velvet gallery rope.
But Kaufman came through. After an even-par 71 in the first round, he came back with a 69 to make the cut, then shot 5-under 66s Saturday and Sunday. He got to 12-under for the week with a bird on the par-3 11th but couldn’t make another, ghosting several chances by the hole.
If one of them fell, he would have tied for second; two, and he would have faced Kelly Kraft in a playoff. He tied for fourth to earn $20,735, his first winnings.
“I’m proud of what I did. I can’t hang my head on anything,” he said.
The finish puts Kaufman into the next Web.com Tour event in three weeks in Mexico and will help him get in more events later. Meanwhile, he made the three-hour drive to Houston to play in the qualifier for this week’s PGA Tour event.
He’s got money in his pocket and encouragement for his psyche. In the vagabond world of pro golf, just knowing you belong counts for a lot.
“I had the burning desire, then I was like, ‘I need to get a job,’ then it was like, ‘I’m good enough to make it,’ ” Kaufman said.
A real job will have to wait.
Fore, please. Smylie Kaufman has some golf to play.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.