Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. $12 for 12 weeks.

Rebuilding The Love Of The Game

— Seems like such a great life, doesn't it? Courtesy car is waiting at the airport. Mint chocolate is on the hotel pillow. Wake up and rub elbows with the big boys on the range.

Yo, Tiger! Wazzup, Vijay?

Every fan wants your autograph. Nobody is rude. The drinks are always free. Women so beautiful they burn holes in your retina pass along phone numbers on cocktail napkins. Tap in for a cool million. Hop on the private jet. Repeat.

Quit golf? Are you nuts?

"I just wasn't into it," Bill Lunde said Friday after he used two eagles to shoot a 63 and move into a third-place tie five shots behind Justin Rose through 36 holes at the Travelers Championship. "I spent a whole year just going through the motions. Even when I was at home, I didn't want to practice. I was fed up with travel, the whole thing.

"I didn't enjoy it. I was miserable. I thought I was done. I halfheartedly went to Q School and didn't get through it."

And then he really was done. He quit. The truth, of course, is life on the Nationwide Tour isn't nearly so romantic. There are nights spent with Orbitz and Priceline. Travelocity and Expedia are your playing partners in search of good flight deals and cheap hotel rooms. You wait in lines like everybody else. You eat your lunch by yourself. Lunde had pounded out $39,942 in 2005 after earning $114,700 in 2004 — on the strength of a second-place finish at the New Zealand PGA Championship — when he bombed at PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament late in 2005.

Lunde, who had been captain of the 1998 UNLV national champions, likes to say he had done just enough to keep playing badly. That's a way of saying dreams don't always crash. Sometimes they slowly rot. He had played nearly 50 Nationwide events and a couple of PGA Tour stops, got to the 2003 U.S. Open and knew, at 30, that was enough. What he didn't know was how to get a job. On the advice of his wife, he started calling everybody he knew. He ended up at Las Vegas Founders, which operates the PGA Tour event in the city. He later would take another job working for a title company where his friend was a vice president. Lunde was excited. Vegas was booming. There was money to be made.

"Then the housing crisis hit," he said.

Lunde was the new guy. As the new guy, well, his buddy had to break Lunde the news he would be the first to go. That was May 2007. It was time to reassess.

"I didn't have a job that summer, so I started playing on a local mini tour, the Butch Harmon Tour," Lunde said. "It was an opportunity to make some money. I didn't have to travel. I started having fun again.

"It's kind of hard to understand. When I was working away from golf, people would call and ask me what I was doing. I'd say I was in my office. They'd have a good laugh. It's kind of an awkward feeling working in the corporate world. But I wasn't enjoying myself playing golf. I couldn't go hit a bucket of balls without looking at my watch.

"When I started playing again, I felt like this is where I'm supposed to be. There are so many peaks and valleys in this game and when it wasn't going well before I'd get down on myself. It's something I fought my whole life. When I came back, I wanted to have a good attitude. Don't take any of this for granted, which I was doing before. Enjoy it."

He enjoyed it enough to win $341,446 in 2008 on the Nationwide Tour, including a victory at the Children's Hospital Invitational. He enjoyed it enough to earn $825,691, 107th in the FedEx Cup standings, last year, including a sixth-place tie at the AT&T Pro-Am and a fourth-place tie at the Frys.com Open during the PGA Tour Fall Series. The man who wanted nothing to do with golf wants everything to do with the game now.

"Bill definitely came back with a little different attitude," said Chad Campbell, a good friend and former UNLV teammate. "I think he respects the game a little bit more. More than anything, he enjoys it more. He's a really good player. He hasn't played that well this year, but I hope this is the week he turns it around."

Lunde tied for 10th at the Puerto Rico Open in March but has made only $174,965 this year, missing 10 of 16 cuts. Lunde, in fact, had a talk coming into this week with his caddie. He wanted a good, positive attitude.

"None of the, 'Here we go again,' same old stuff," Lunde, now 34, said. "I think that has helped.

"I finished off last year well, so I was looking forward to a good start this year. But it has been slow. You start getting down on yourself. Sometimes you think you are, but you're never too far off in this game. You've got to keep plugging away and try not to lose that belief."

Lunde followed a 68 with a 7-under-par second round, one shot shy of his career best round at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic. He eagled the par-5 13th, nailing a 3-iron, sinking a 20-foot putt up the hill. Two holes later, he drove it in the rough between the water and green on the par-4 15th, but the angle was perfect, and Lunde bumped and ran it into the cup for another eagle. Yes, this is Justin Rose's tournament. But this was Lunde's day.

"It was a great round, really fun," Lunde said. "But the one thing I learned out here, the purses are so top heavy, you've got to finish it off.

"You know, stepping away from the game, I don't regret any of it. It gave me a new perspective."

In other words, the Vegas housing crash could really pay off?

"Yeah, yeah," Lunde said. "Well, it's not paying on my house. But it could out here."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading