Richard Zokol has repeatedly said that it's one thing to win a PGA Tour card, another to keep it. Zokol, a two-time PGA Tour winner who follows Canadian golfers in particular very closely, knows his subject, having been there, done that. His comment is always germane, but more so this week after David Hearn tied for fifth in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas.
Hearn shot 65-68-67-70 to finish -17, win $149,160, and move into 108th place on the PGA Tour money list with $678,548 (U.S). He has three tournaments left, including this week's Frys.com Open in San Martin, Calif., and plans to play each one not only to maintain his position in the top 125 but also to make more progress.
"When you're 100th on the money list, you want to get to 70, and when you get to 70, you want to get to 30," Hearn said from Las Vegas shortly after finishing the tournament. Each of those marks brings with it invitations to elite events.
But the first objective—not that Hearn is focusing on it—is to stay inside the top 125 and retain his PGA Tour card for next year. He made it on to the 2005 PGA Tour through the brutal qualifying school tournament, but finished 196th on the money list and lost his all-exempt status. He returned to the 2011 PGA Tour by finishing 21st on the 2010 Nationwide Tour.
"I'm not setting goals," the personable 32-year-old who lives in Brantford, Ont. with his wife Heather, said. He and his coach Ralph Bauer, who is on Team Canada's staff, decided the idea is to make birdies rather than to set goals, and to try to make as much money as possible.
"It's about not making mistakes," Hearn said, in addition to making birdies.
But trying to make birdies doesn't mean taking on shots that might be out of range, or plan foolish. Hearn tried to drive the green on the 341-yard, par-four 15th hole at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas in only the first round. He laid up in the other three rounds.
"It's a tweener for me," Hearn said. "A driver is maybe too much, and a 3-wood isn't enough." Hearn played smart golf from the tee, avoided the desert all the way up the left side and all the bunkers around the green, and while he didn't make any birdies on the hole, he didn't make any bogies.
At the same time, Hearn has been gaining all kinds of experience playing with some of the top, or former, top players in the game. He played recently with Ernie Els, and in Vegas was in the same threesome as David Duval for the first two rounds. He played the third round with Steve Elkington. They've all won majors.
"It's great to talk to these guys and to learn from them," Hearn, whose game really came together on the weekend. He's struggled on some weekends this year after being in excellent shape after the opening rounds. At the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in May, he opened with 71-68 but closed with 70-76. At the RBC Canadian Open in July, he opened with 70-68 but closed with 74-74 to drop into a T-34 finish.
Hearn attributes his improved play overall to simple maturity. Tom Kite once said that many players don't reach their potential until they're around 35, so Hearn is on track for that. And make no mistake: He has a lot of potential. He drives it high and long, and hits towering iron shots that have little curvature on them—unless he chooses to move the ball one way or the other. He's also using a long belly putter now, and that's helped him convert his increasingly accurate approach shots into birdies.
In Vegas, Hearn was right at the top of the greens in regulation statistic. And as many putts as he made for birdie, he said that "a ton of putts hit lips."
That was about it for golf talk when we spoke after Hearn got off the course in Vegas. We talked about movies we'd seen, and then it was time to move on. I was heading out to see Moneyball. If Hearn keeps improving, and maturing into his game, well, he'll make plenty of money with his golf ball. And he'll be back on the PGA Tour next year, something that, as Zokol said, is an accomplishment, and not at all an easy one.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider's Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round's on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein