It wasn't that long ago when Andrew Svoboda was wondering if pro golf was going to be part of his future.
He was working in the pro shop at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. and was struggling with what to do next. This was in 2008 and he had been banging around the mini-tours for four seasons, but he caught some momentum by qualifying for the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and decided to continue to plug away.
Svoboda, 32, is in his third full season on the Nationwide Tour and is coming off his best finish ever in 61 career tournaments. His tie for second at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship not only got his season started out on a positive note but it did a lot for his confidence level.
"Absolutely, it helps," said Svoboda, a former star at St. John's who holds the school record for most wins in a career with 13. "I had a very good off season of getting my game in shape and it paid off right away."
Svoboda said there were no major changes this off-season as he continued to work with his swing coach, Carl Rabito, who is based in Orlando. Having played with a draw his whole career Rabito has helped Svoboda keep it a little straighter.
"I've had a draw forever but we've been working on my dispersal of shots and my ball flight is a little straighter," Svoboda said.
Svoboda wound up shooting 70-66-67-72 to stay in contention all week before losing to veteran Skip Kendall by one shot.
"I played very well in the third round and had seven birdies," Svoboda said. "I hit the ball well and putted it very good so it was a good combination."
He hopes to continue that good play this week in the Panama Claro Championship, the Nationwide Tour's second tournament of the season.
Svoboda has been good enough to make it into three U.S. Opens:2006 at Winged Foot, where he used to caddy for his father, 2008 at Torrey Pines, where he made the cut, and 2009 at Bethpage.
It was at Bethpage where Svoboda was lucky enough to play a nine-hole practice round with Tiger Woods. It made such an impression on Svoboda that he has a picture of the two of them on his Facebook page.
"It was only nine holes but it was really unbelievable," he said. "It was the U.S. Open so he was pretty serious but it was cool. It was fun to watch him up close and how he hits the ball."
Svoboda can remember back to those early days as a pro when he failed to get out of first stage of PGA TOUR Qualifying School five years in a row. He had his doubts but then making the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was a big deal. He ultimately was able to break through during q-school a short time later.
Last fall he was close to making it all the way through q-school but missed in the final stage by just two shots. He's tried not to dwell on how close he came.
"That's like two putts or whatever," Svoboda said about missing his PGA TOUR card.
Svoboda says part of the reason he's optimistic about this season is the experience he has on the Nationwide Tour. He finished 55th on the money list last season and in 2010, his first full season on the Nationwide Tour, he was 46th on the money list.
He is hoping to put together more top 10 finishes. He's had just six of top 10s so far in his career. "I think I know the courses a little better and I'm more comfortable with what I need to do from week to week," he said.
Svoboda got his start in golf early and used to caddy for his father at Winged Foot. He remembers caddying at the age of 11, and from there grew into one of the top junior golfers in the Northeast.
He was the club champion at Winged Foot five years in a row, was the Metropolitan Golf Association player of the year in 2003 and won the New York State Open at Bethpage in 2007.
His goal for this season is to be better prepared and he plans to pace himself better.
"I think I played eight on a row at one point last year and that's too many," he said.
Svoboda says there's a long way to go this season, but is looking forward to the challenges along the way.
"The goal is to win out here," he said. "You have to get yourself mentally ready and another goal is to finish more inside the top 10. If you can do that it really helps you over the long haul."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 18 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR. You can reach him at email@example.com.