Cory’s ColumnLookout Tiger, Durant Making Early Charge

As the nation’s sports fans keep one eye on the closing of the year’s basketball season and begin to go “mad” with March heat, they begin to turn over to the new baseball season with opening day fast approaching. What many fans tend to overlook, however, is the year-long, fan-unfriendly marathon golf season.

Especially as college students, we tend not to be interested in a game of fat old men. What most are missing, though, is perhaps the story of the young 2001 year in sports. This past week, 36-year-old Joe Durant completed a full-circle career change with his second straight win and is sitting on top of the PGA tour’s money list with superstar Tiger Woods well out of striking distance.

It was less than ten years ago, after finishing the 1991 season disappointingly on a semi-pro golf tour, that he decided to hang up his cleats for some penny loafers. Yes, he received his license to sell insurance and was ready to settle down and support his family, giving up his life-long dream.

He soon found himself discontent in the white-collar world, however, and moved back a little closer to the game that owned his heart. He began to work at a golf equipment retail house, showing he still had immense enthusiasm for the game.

Then his wife Tracy finally got fed up with seeing her husband wander aimlessly in his career. She, a college golfer herself, gave him a long lecture, urging him to pursue his dream at all costs and to regain confidence in himself.

The desire had always been there, but now young Joe had the confidence and mindset needed to make it on the big tour. He returned to semi-pro golf and found steady improvement, constantly working on his game, and building his confidence. After a brief, unsuccessful stint on the PGA tour in 1993, he arrived in 1997 for good.

That year, he would have his best year as a professional to that point, earning three top tens and closing the year making 14 out of 15 cuts. He finally broke through to the winning circle in 1998 at the Motorola Western Open with a win over 2000 Masters champion Vijay Singh.

After seven years of hard work and paying his dues, Durant had finally made a name for himself. He was not out of the woods yet, however, as the next year would test his will power once again.

The 1999 season would see Durant fracture a rib, which critically inhibits a golfer’s swing. He was out for a full two months and was less than 100 percent the entire year. Once again, fate had decided to see how much Joe Durant really loved his sport.

As resilient as ever, he again emerged in the 2000 season, earning four top tens and placing in the top ten in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. He was still not able to become a dominant player on the tour, however, and was overshadowed by the emerging careers of young stars like Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, among others.

So, with so much young athletic talent in today’s game, was there any room for a 36-year-old licensed insurance salesman who loved the game?

Durant promptly answered this question in 2001, dusting everyone after the year’s first two months. So far this season, he has earned just under $1.5 million after competing in only six events. This feat has been highlighted by wins at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and this past week’s Genuity Classic.

So, what can we learn from this middle-aged family man? He is the proof that sports are not always as predictable as we think, and that there is no statistic that can measure heart and determination.

I realize that similar stories happen in sports, but we always hear about those ones. Today’s sports fans just dismiss golf as a sport that Tiger will own for the next twenty years, losing every once in a while to stars like Davis Love III, David Duval, and Phil Mickelson.

In a sport such as golf, however, where physical attributes are not always as valuable as what’s inside an athlete’s head and heart, rest assured that people like Joe Durant will always come along with little else but their determination and respect for the game of golf.