Chad Schulze's golf career has weathered several errant shots, but beginning Monday night, the Cockeysville resident will have his best chance yet at realizing his dream as a professional golfer.
Schulze, 34, is a contestant on the popular Golf Channel reality show Big Break Mexico, where he's competing against 11 other contestants for a shot at playing in a PGA Tour event. The show, in its 19th season, pits six men and six women in golf-related challenges that test their strength in all aspects of the game.
For Schulze, the show provided a chance to elevate his game to higher levels than it has ever been, while also testing him in pressure-packed situations.
"I love competition, the competing part was fun. I really enjoyed that," Schulze said. "As far as what your brain does to you under that duress, it's pretty amazing. I never tested my game like that."
Golf has always been a passion for Schulze. He started playing when he was 9 years old as a way to bond with his father, and the game hasn't left him since.
Schulze eventually was offered a partial golf scholarship at American University, but dropped out after his freshman year. After subsequently working at a golf course, Schulze landed at Division II Millersville University, where he went on to have a successful college career.
In his three years at Millersville, Schulze won 13 events and was named a NCAA Division II All-American. But financial limitations prevented him from turning pro out of college, so he moved to Louisiana to work at a country club.
After that didn't work out, Schulze moved back east and began applying to be on Big Break. But even that didn't come easy.
"I probably filled out 10 applications in total, I just kept applying," he said. "Every couple months I would send them in. After a while I got an interview in Arizona but only got one day notice, so I couldn't get to that one."
In September, he finally got his chance, and impressed the show's producers with his on-camera charm as well as his game.
"Chad was a perfect storm of a character for this show," said producer Jay Kossoff, one of the show's creators. "Right form his initial audition he jumped right off the screen."
Kossoff said the casting process, which lasts several months, is designed to find people who can compete with each other on the course and make for compelling television.
"He wanted it for all the right reasons: he doesn't have money, is struggling with relationships, is working hard to get in this game. At the same time he was really good on camera, so he was a natural for the cast," Kossoff said.
Schulze echoed that sentiment, saying his personality made for some good drama.
"Unfortunately, even though I tried not to have drama build, I have a big mouth and I'm very opinionated," Schulze said. "I'll give you my two cents, even if my two cents is wrong, so there were some funny moments."
After finally getting the call, Schulze's preparation went into overdrive.
He practiced hard over the winter, working on all aspects of his game, before traveling down to Mexico for filming in January and February. There, he said, the busy filming schedule made for a whirlwind experience.
"It was one hardest things of my life, they don't give you very much time, they keep you moving," Schulze said. "You couldn't really practice too much around the greens. You're constantly being told what do and where to go."
Schulze isn't sure if he'll watch the 11-week show, and wouldn't say how well he did. But he is sure the chance to compete made him a better golfer.
"I'm not sure if I'll watch what goes on, I'm up in the air about that," he said. It was a fantastic experience. It made me a whole lot better as a player, I learned so much that I never would have learned. I recommend it, if you can handle it.