The Life of a Pro Golfer
What's it like to be a professional golfer? Expert Andrew Wilkinson shares his story about playing in pro tournaments and how he got to this level.
I stepped onto the green at the San Juan Open on Sept. 1, the start of my golf season post COVID-19. It was the first of two tournaments I would play in over the course of two weeks. Only 30 percent of the field will earn paychecks, and a select few will have a chance to win the whole thing. There were 120 players starting the tournament. Given how hard I had trained and how well I had played in this event last year, my confidence level was high.
With modern-day professional golf, the goal each and every week is to make cuts, put yourself in the position to win the event, and contend for top finishes. Golf, unlike other sports, requires a very specific mindset. Of course you are not going to win every week — actually a true win is kind of rare — but a series of top 10 and top 5 finishes is a great way to gain momentum and eventually break through for that win.
After a very good start at the San Juan Open — an opening round of 71, followed by a 2nd round of 67 I was in the ideal situation to really focus on contending in the tournament. But first, a little about how I got here.
I started playing golf at a very young age at the country club in the small northern Illinois town where I grew up. My father was a very talented golfer, and he molded me as a golfer from the time that I was a child. The game of golf really connected us. The time spent on a golf course can never be replaced. The lessons of golf and life go hand and hand, and that was the foundation of our relationship.
With golf being a huge part of my life, I also looked up to the golf pros. Tiger Woods was in the prime of his career when I was young, so he was a huge reason for me continuing to love the game. He brought a whole different energy to golf, and that made it fun. Another player I really tried to emulate was Vijay Singh, a golfer who practiced more than anyone else and showed me that only playing golf wasn’t enough if you wanted to better your game. His commitment to practicing taught me that if you want to get better at golf, that will happen on the practice green and driving range.
I continued to play golf through my junior years and in high school, eventually receiving a college scholarship to continue playing and further my education, at the University of Illinois, Springfield. In 2016, I decided to move to Tampa, Fla., to get into the world of golf in new ways. I started out by working at a few clubs and playing on the side. I was able to meet a lot of new people and other players who really taught me what the golf world was about. More importantly, they taught me a few things I didn’t realize are a part of a golf career: managing your time and money, and marketing yourself as a brand to attract companies and sponsors. These types of skills are essential to becoming a successful golf pro.
After a few years, I was able to snag my first sponsorship. For the first time, I was able to start thinking about playing full time. I made that decision in 2017, and at the beginning of 2018, I started my new journey as a professional.
The Realities of Going Pro
Becoming a professional golfer took a lot more commitment than I had originally anticipated when I set out on this journey. It required mental preparation, fitness and training sacrifices, and a total lifestyle change. I had been a night owl before becoming a professional golfer, living a fun, low-key lifestyle. But all of that changed when I had to start thinking about going to bed at 10 p.m. with my head full of thoughts of the next day’s training grind.
Then there’s the networking and branding aspects. I have partnered with a few different companies since I turned pro, and those relationships have helped me a lot throughout the years. For example, many golfers use their clothing or their overall look to create their visual brand. I would call myself a very simply-dressed golfer—my favorite color is navy blue. I’m a bit superstitious and like to wear blue for all of my important rounds. When I seek out brand partnerships, I tend to prefer companies with clean products—things like plant protein and clean energy supplements.
As with any job, there are pros and cons to being a professional golfer. You get to travel and receive access to some of the best courses around the world. Since I’ve turned pro, I’ve been able to visit Brazil, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Columbia, and plenty of amazing places around the United States. But traveling comes with the cost of spending long stretches of time away from loved ones and living out of a suitcase; there are plenty of times when you might not be staying in the nicest hotel in the world as you try to manage your finances on the road.
And playing golf full time means that not playing well and having a few rough weeks on the course can make it hard to keep your mindset positive. For me, the mental side of professional golf is far and away the most challenging part of the job. A great way to stay positive through these tough stretches is to keep trusting the process and always trust yourself and your game.
Snapshot of a Tournament
Now, back to my two weeks in Albuquerque.
I played in the New Mexico Open last season and absolutely loved that trip, so I knew that this year I wanted to play in the same tournament again. Thanks to COVID-19, the San Juan Open was rescheduled to take place one week before the New Mexico Open. Since I had heard good things about that event, the decision to sign up was easy, particularly since I often try to do back to back events on the road. It always makes the trip worthwhile. Plus, the city of Albuquerque always surprises me with its unique beauty and culture … and I absolutely LOVE the food.
Getting ready to go out West and play at elevation means working to get your distances dialed in, since the ball flies further when you play above sea level. For these tournaments, my preparation paid off. I nailed my distances, and I’m very proud of myself for that.
Preparing for Albuquerque also meant adjusting to different green speeds from the courses I play here in Tampa. During the summer months, greens in Tampa can get a little wet and slower, which is completely different from the firm and dry season out West. I personally love fast greens, so I had no trouble getting ready for this shift.
Maybe the biggest change, though, was adjusting to playing golf during the COVID-19 pandemic. The typical handshakes have turned into fist pumps or air high fives, and the distance between everyone is a lot larger than normal. Caddies are taking out the flag sticks with towels and there is hand sanitizer everywhere you turn. But since it’s so important that we all stay safe, it’s great to see that the golf world is making that a priority.
I made both cuts during this trip, which is the #1 goal for any professional event. Getting on a roll of making cut after cut after cut is a very good way to move your way up in earnings and certain rankings, I had a little more success at the San Juan Open, mostly because I managed the course course a little better. I played that tournament with a lot more consistency, which I really pride myself on. Overall, it was a very successful trip and it is nice to have tournament golf back in my life.
A lot of younger players ask me what it takes to turn pro and be successful. I always tell them about the commitment it takes. This lifestyle demands a lot of attention, and if you do not give it 100%, you will get lapped by others. Without the support I receive from my loved ones, this life would be almost impossible.
Another question I often get is how to play challenging courses, like those that host these sorts of pro events. My main advice is to stay patient always. These courses are going to challenge you, and you will make mistakes. Even the pros make their fair share. It all depends on how you react to those mistakes. Remember that golf is a game of misses, and how you manage those misses will result in what kind of score you will shoot during each round.
My two events in New Mexico might seem like a couple-week golf vacation to the normal eye, but the pressure to perform well makes this a pretty stressful job for pro golfers. I usually take this kind of trip with two tournaments two to three times a month, and every time, I have to face the pressure of making money and finishing well so that I can continue to improve in the golf world. These sorts of events are crucial to get pro golfers mentally prepared to play in the bigger events on PGA Latin and Korn Ferry, where the stakes are even higher and your career is on the line. I’m very grateful to be able to do what I love to do, and I worked very hard to get here. But there’s always more to accomplish.
Working for Curated has also allowed me—financially and logistically—to travel more and play in more tournaments than I might have otherwise been able to. Hit up my profile if you ever need help finding the clubs right for you. I'd love to get you on the links, professional or not!