WEB.COM TOUR INSIDER
Q&A with Mark Baldwin
A candid conversation with the Notre Dame alum about his journey in golf and the time he drove off a cliff
February 27, 2018
By Kevin Prise , PGATOUR.COM
- New Hampshire native Mark Baldwin finished T42 at Final Stage to secure eight guaranteed Web.com Tour starts in 2018. (Ryan Young/PGA TOUR)
The journey of a lifetime begins with a single swing.
That’s the header on Mark Baldwin’s website, and there’s no disputing that the Notre Dame alum has been on a journey in his professional golf career.
By virtue of a gritty top-45 performance at Final Stage of the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament last fall, Baldwin secured guaranteed Web.com Tour starts for the first time in his 13-year professional career.
The 34-year-old has spent time competing on PGA TOUR China, PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada – in addition to time on the One Asia Tour, the Challenge Tour and the Dakotas Tour, among others – as he chases the ultimate dream of PGA TOUR membership.
The New Hampshire native admits there have been times he has questioned his ability to maintain the pursuit. But he has stayed the course, and the 2018 Web.com Tour season presents a golden opportunity.
During the Tour’s season-opening international swing, Baldwin spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to discuss his ski background, dreaded household chores, eating roasted bugs and more.
What’s your earliest golf memory?
Probably playing with my dad at the local course, and he asked he one day if I wanted to go fishing or golfing. We had been fishing a lot, so we went and tried golf, and he just loved it.
He enjoyed golf … not very good at it, but he would hit it in the water, and he would laugh it off. So he just really had a great attitude, made it fun. I just loved being out there driving a cart, so my earliest golf memories are of driving carts.
And I actually … probably much to the dismay of the course that we played, once drove a cart off a cliff, down a bank, and hit a tree, with my dad in the car. So that was not only my earliest golf memory, but my earliest driving memory. Amazing that I still drive, and I still play golf.
I must’ve been about 5 or 6. That’s just irresponsible parenting, right there (laughs).
And he wasn’t mad?
He was proud of my, just, taking on the challenge. Take it close to the edge, don’t worry. Don’t play it safe.
What’s the most memorable golf shot you’ve hit?
Boy, just hitting the last couple shots at Q-School, I think, just with all the nerves and all that pressure, the whole season on the line.
I think those are my most recent memories, just being able to take the club back and hit the ball, get it airborne. That was pretty good.
Any other aspects of life you’d compare that to?
Probably when I don’t do the chores around the house, that my wife commands of me. I get in a little bit of trouble for that, so that can be nerve-wracking, when I just prolong it for a period of time.
Any particular chore that you dread?
Making the bed. Can’t stand it. Gosh, probably putting away clothes after laundry, too, like actually folding them and putting them in the closet. My new thing is, actually, I just throw them all on the bed, covering the messy bed, so I just knock out both things, right? They just kind of sit there for a while. We’ll deal with that later.
Growing up in New Hampshire, did you play other sports? What did you do in the winter, when you couldn’t play golf?
I played a lot of sports. I loved basketball, played on a lot of basketball teams. I was a great shooter, had no ball-handling ability to speak of, and I was really skinny.
My vertical … considering I was pretty much 6 feet at least, by the time I was in seventh grade, I could barely get net. You hit me in the corner, I’m going to knock down a jumper, but when you get me when I’m covered, I’m going to be pretty worthless.
So basketball wasn’t going to be my ticket, and once I realized that, I was mainly focused on golf.
Any skiing or snowboarding, any winter sports like that?
I come from a big ski family. My uncle was on the U.S. ski team, and I have two cousins, who are both his sons, that were big snowboarders, and they were quite accomplished. So we grew up skiing, and we lived just five minutes away from Gunstock Mountain Resort, which is probably one of the few ski areas in New Hampshire.
So it made it really convenient; we could just go after school and on weekends, it wasn’t really much of a day trip. We rolled out of bed, and we were there. So we skied quite a bit. I haven’t skied probably since sophomore year of college, mainly just out of sheer terror that I’m going to find my way into a patch of trees.
When I do that out here, I can punch out. But there, you might get stranded, and who knows what happens from there. There’s no exit strategy. So I haven’t been skiing much.
Have you chatted with your uncle about how he approached the competitive aspect of skiing, and anything there that you’ve tried to apply?
You know, I actually haven’t. That would actually probably be something that he would like to talk about. He was a ski jumper, so I think a lot of those elements would apply to golf. It’s so much mental rehearsal, and you can’t be off at all. In golf, if you hit a wayward shot …
It’s like in baseball; they say that if you hit a wayward shot, you get another crack at it, if it’s a foul ball. But in golf, you’ve got to punch out … you’re ski jumping; you can’t hit a wayward shot as it applies to skiing. Those tips have to hit the ground perfectly, and if they don’t, it can cost you a lot, a lot more than a couple-shot penalty. That’s a great idea. I’m going to bring that up to him.
You played in Asia, and a lot of places across the world. Has there ever been a moment in one of those continents or countries, where you felt out of your comfort zone, had some sort of challenge or obstacle or some scenario that you had to figure out?
I’d say the whole experience over there is out of your comfort zone, out of my comfort zone, which is why I like it. When I go to those places, I think I seek out some kind of stranger experiences, because it makes the golf easier. The golf then, on a foreign course, just becomes more routine … when you’ve been staying in a thatch hut, eating roasted bugs and trying to communicate via your best effort at charades.
So I think there were quite a few experiences that were out of my comfort zone. Someone suggested that the title of my memoir, whenever that happens, should be ‘An Uncomfortable Life.’ I think that’s fairly accurate up to this point.
And more of that to come.
Hopefully more comfortable, though.
Is there any best piece of advice you ever received, that stays with you?
You know, I just think having fun, enjoying what you’re doing. I asked someone that, who had played out on the Web.com Tour. I said, ‘You played out here, and you had both positive and negative outcomes, so what was your best takeaway?’
He said, ‘Just be yourself. Just do Mark Baldwin, and you’ll do well.’ So I think there’s some pressure to do more than you have, that led up to getting here, so I think maybe just continuing to let the progress, as it has happened, unfold more naturally instead of forcing it. Just ‘do Mark Baldwin,’ so that’s what I’m taking away.
Being from Notre Dame, what does it mean to you to be an alum and represent that school?
It’s pretty special because it gives me a connection to the university that I might not otherwise have, besides just going back occasionally for games and seeing friends that you went to school with.
But for instance, last week, I talked to the coach of the team, and I got a couple of Notre Dame hats, and a shirt, and a head cover that I’ll probably be bringing out here, whenever I get back home. So that’s pretty neat, to feel like I’m still connected to the university, and they’re looking out for me. And that’s special, that a school would still feel it important to embrace somebody that’s at this level … certainly that hasn’t ‘made it’ in any way, shape, or form, but that’s making progress … and that I’m recognized by a place that I love, a place I call home, and is still a home in a lot of ways to me … is pretty special.
Being 11 or so years out of college, was there ever a point where you thought about quitting the game or doing something else?
Yeah, it became kind of a daily thought for a while. But I love playing, I love competing, in the good times and the bad. I think there was a point where I had a knee injury, I couldn’t afford to put gas in the car to get to the grocery store … and when I did get to the grocery store, I had about enough to get some peanut butter and some bread. And I lived on noodles and rice and peanut butter and bread, until … this is when I was still trying to play mini-tour golf. I wasn’t working outside of that. I was just trying to scrounge up enough to keep going.
And I thought, ‘OK, you need to find some supplemental incomes to get you going again.’ But that was kind of a low point. I was thinking, ‘OK, look at where golf has brought you. It has brought you to this point where you have to walk to the store with a bum knee, and you can barely afford anything at the store.’
But, you know, those are kind of interesting times, too, and they teach you about yourself. I think during that period, that was probably the lowest point, but it also forced me to focus on getting a plan together and then put it into action, to get back and start playing well and get myself funded … really, just set a pace for my life that was going to be more sustainable and more successful.
It was a tough period (2011, his second season on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada), but it was also an important period.