Excuse Andrew Svoboda if he sprints to the first tee Thursday.
Svoboda can’t wait to start the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season at the Frys.com Open. Few players have persevered more to get there.
At age 34, Svoboda thought about giving up the dream more than once. It took him six tries at Q-school just to reach the second stage. Along the way, he has worked as a caddie at Old Oaks County Club in Purchase, N.Y., cleaning clubs and carrying bags for people who didn’t have half his game.
Six months ago, as a rookie on the PGA TOUR, Svoboda reached another crossroad. He was playing poorly, hopping back and forth between the PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour. He was staring at another trip to Q-school. Svoboda dreaded the thought.
“Having to climb that mountain again, especially if I had to go to Q-school and didn’t do well once I got there?” said Svoboda. “It wasn’t a fun thought. I’m thinking, maybe I’m supposed to do something else.’’
However, this is a story with a happy twist. Svoboda had the best two months of his career in August and September. First he won the Price Cutter Charity Championship Presented by Dr. Pepper in August. Less than a month later, he won the Chiquita Classic.
Suddenly, Svoboda had two wins on the Web.com Tour that earned him a little more than $300,000. He regained his PGA TOUR card for 2013-14 by finishing in the top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list. He had a new lease on his career.
Is Svoboda happy? What do you think?
“Like a lot of things in life, until you go through it, you really don’t know how hard it’s going to be,” Svoboda said. “It has taken a lot of perseverance. Pro golf is really challenging, a lot of travel, a lot of ups and downs. Look at what’s happened to me this year. I probably missed 14 or 15 cuts, probably some the worst golf I’ve played in years. But then I won two tournaments and it became the best year ever. Most jobs, if you don’t perform every day, you’re in trouble. That’s the beauty of golf. You win a tournament and it can change your life. I think that’s why so many guys go for the dream.”
The people who know Svoboda best could not be happier for him. They know what he has been through. And they believe Svoboda is ready to handle the pressure and competition of the PGA TOUR.
Nick Maselli, an assistant professional at Old Oaks, noticed a change in Svoboda’s mental approach a few months ago. Maselli believes once Svoboda began to think more positively, it allowed him to play his best golf.
“He’s a feisty guy, super competitive, but Andrew had become a little negative,” Maselli said. “But after talking to some people about it, all of a sudden his attitude changed. I just think he’s a different person now. He’s happier, more appreciative of where he is. I think all of those things are going to make this year coming up a totally great experience. I think he realized that if he was going to play professional golf at the highest level, he could not play it with the mindset he had.”
To win twice in two months, after struggling all year, showed Svoboda still has what it takes under pressure. During his college career at St. John’s, Svoboda won 14 tournaments. Give him a chance to win, and he is not afraid to seize it.
Changing his mental approach helped Svoboda, but so did changing equipment. Ball-striking is the strongest part of Svoboda’s game, but he was wild off the tee earlier this year, constantly playing out of trouble. Then Svoboda found a new driver, started playing from the fairway, and the birdies followed.
"You can’t play the PGA TOUR if you’re not hitting the driver well,” Svoboda said. “There’s a lot of rough and the courses are difficult. I got a new TaylorMade driver now and I’m driving the ball great. It has given me a lot of confidence."
Svoboda got into 18 tournaments on the PGA TOUR this past year but only made five cuts, and never finished higher than 47th. However, Svoboda saw courses that were new to him, and experienced the butterflies of being paired with players he had admired on TV, like Padraig Harrington and Trevor Immelman.
Now Svoboda feels more like he belongs on the PGA TOUR. He plans on being a mainstay, not a guest.
“It’s nice to have some money to travel with, to travel the right way, stay in nicer hotels,” Svoboda said. “I want to win this year. A win on the PGA TOUR would be terrific.”
Svoboda is grateful to the members at Old Oaks for giving him a place to practice, and to his swing coach, Carl Rabito. Considering the state of his career six months ago, Svoboda still has to pinch himself sometimes. But when he wakes up Thursday, he won’t be dreaming. He will be stoked to play his first round of the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season.
Bet you Svoboda does not miss his tee time.
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.