Parker Gillam of Raleigh played in his first professional golf tournament this week in the Rex Hospital Open, eyes wide open, taking it all in, amped about the opportunity.
Gillam, who recently finished his freshman year at Wake Forest, did not make the 36-hole cut in the Web.com Tour event after rounds of 72 and 76 at TPC Wakefield Plantation. But it’s the experience that counts, yes?
Gillam, 19, also got some unsolicited advice Friday from more seasoned pros such as Wes Roach, a former Duke golfer who has played both the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour.
Roach’s tip? “Maybe close your eyes a little bit,” he said, smiling.
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Then there’s Michael Johnson, who played at Auburn and took the early second-round Rex lead with a 65 that got him to 10 under par 132.
His advice? “Stay in college as long as you can.”
Too many college kids, it seems, want to be the next Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas, playing the big tour in their early 20s. Especially the best of the best. They’re in a hurry.
“Playing the PGA Tour is my life goal,” Gillam said. “But I know I still have a lot of learning to do.”
Kyle Reifers, 34, once played at Wake Forest and was the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, selected to the U.S. Walker Cup team in 2005. Turning pro in 2006 after being the runnerup in the NCAA Championship, he won his first career start on what was then the Nationwide Tour in the Chattanooga Classic.
A year later, Reifers was on the PGA Tour. Missing the cut in 19 of 27 tournaments, he soon was headed back and has bounced between tours through the years.
“You have to learn from it, whenever or wherever you play,” Reifers said Friday after a second-round 68. “If you play great, if you play awful, learn from it and hold your composure.
“If you’re good enough, you’re going to have a long career. I’m still learning that 12 years into being a pro. I’m just trying to take everything with a grain of salt, the ups and the downs.”
Roach has had his share of both. The Knoxville, Tenn., native was on the PGA Tour in 2014 and 2016, earning about $800,000 total in the two years. That’s nice payoff for most people but not enough to keep his tour playing card.
“It has been a rollercoaster,” said Roach, a 2011 Duke graduate. “Some of the lows I’ve had have been a little lower than expected. And not quite as high as I would have expected, either.”
Roach did earn a victory on the Web.com Tour, winning the 2015 El Bosque Mexico Championship. That earned him a congratulatory call from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Roach was eighth on the tour money list that year, enough to propel him to the PGA Tour in 2016, but he missed the cut in 11 of 17 tournaments.
Roach said self-confidence, as much as anything, is needed to stay on the big tour.
“That belief,” he said. “It’s a matter of being true to who you are and true to your game and knowing your limits. It’s trying to perfect your craft and not worry about what anybody else is doing. You need to look more inward, just be you.”
Gillam, a former St. David's golfer, played his way into the Rex by getting through Monday qualifying in Greensboro, shooting a 64 and then emerging from an eight-man playoff. That got him to Wakefield, a course he said he has played often.
Playing in a threesome with Raleigh’s Carter Jenkins, Gillam had a shaky start Thursday — he was 4 over after his first six holes, including a triple-bogey — but battled back to shoot 1-over 72. He had three birdies, four bogeys and two double-bogeys Friday in the 76.
“I didn’t play great and I didn’t drive the ball well at all, and that was very unexpected,” Gillam said. “The course is harder than I’ve played it, set up harder than any college tournament. But it was a great experience.”
Gillam now has his first pro tournament on his golf resume. Roach is playing his 113th Web.com Tour event. Both want the same thing: a career on the PGA Tour.
“It showed me what I have to do in three years to try to make it.” Gillam said.
Three years, not next year.