Editor’s Note: The notion is singular to golf: A talented player decides to turn professional, but later reconsiders and applies to be reinstated as an amateur. It’s not a decision that is taken lightly by either the player or the USGA, which administers the amateur reinstatement process.
From left to right: Jim Holgrieve, Julia Potter, Corey Weworski, and Brad Tilley
The following are first-person essays by four players, three of whom are USGA champions. Each has a story to tell about falling in love with the game, trying their hand as a professional, and returning to the amateur game. Because of their experiences, these players are particularly thankful for all that the game has to offer.
Jim Holtgrieve, St. Louis, Mo.
Years Professional: 9
Golf has been a major part of my life – I dare say it has been my life – for as long as I can remember. My dad introduced me to the game when I was 4, and by high school I had to choose one sport. Thank God, I chose golf.
After enlisting in the Air Force in 1968, I was transferred to Hawaii. I won the Army Open in Oahu and met plenty of high-level military personnel on the golf course. It was an incredible experience.
After the service, I started playing a national amateur schedule and made friends for life – people like Buddy Marucci, Vinny Giles, Bob Lewis and Jay Sigel. I qualified for a U.S. Open, played on three Walker Cup Teams and won the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981. I considered turning pro, but I desperately wanted to be a Walker Cup captain someday, and felt I was on track to do it.
By the 1990s, I needed to earn more to help raise two kids. So I turned professional in 1998, at age 50. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve made, because I was only going out there for the money.
I played OK, but my heart wasn’t in it. I can’t even remember my last pro tournament, other than it was in California. I returned to St. Louis to work in 2003 and applied for amateur reinstatement in 2005.
When I got my amateur status back in 2007, it was a new lease on life. I just wanted to be with my buddies and compete. Of course, the pinnacle was being chosen to captain the 2011 and 2013 Walker Cup Teams, the memories of which still give me goosebumps.
I’m very grateful. I played golf with my father, my two boys, for my country and got to know Arnold Palmer, among countless other experiences. Much of it is due to being an amateur golfer. I️ think we’re entitled to a second chance, and I’ve made the most of mine.
Julia Potter, Indianapolis, Ind.
Years Professional: 2
When I was 6 years old, my father read that 60 percent of women’s college golf scholarships went unused. He figured that, not only was it a great sport to teach his daughters, it might also be an opportunity to get their college education paid for. That actually happened – my older sister played at Wisconsin and I played at Missouri.
When I started playing, my father would drop a ball near the green and I would chip and putt from that point. I’ve always felt like the strongest part of my game is my short game, and I attribute it to that being the first thing I learned.
I played in the Indiana junior golf program, and at 12 I won all five events I played in on the Prep Tour. I don’t think I would be the golfer I am today without that experience. During my time at Missouri, I really blossomed as a competitor. It’s where I learned how to win.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a professional golfer. It was kind of an afterthought. Even though I had just had the worst semester of my college career, I tried to qualify for the Symetra Tour and I ended up earning full status. It basically fell into my lap, so I turned professional to try it out.
What I learned during that summer of 2010 is that I didn’t enjoy the game when I played it for my livelihood. The next summer after graduation, I played in a few state opens to try to make some money, but after that, my goal was to find a job and get my amateur status back so I could play in the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. I was pleasantly surprised that it only took one year.
The amateur game means a lot to me. It’s a different atmosphere from professional golf. There’s a camaraderie that I cherish more as I get older. It’s what the game started off to be, and I like to play it in that setting.
Corey Weworski, Carlsbad, Calif.
Years Professional: 1
I used to caddie for my dad, but I didn’t play at first, because I was good at softball and I didn’t want the golf swing to conflict with my softball swing – it’s two different planes. I began playing golf competitively in high school, and I played briefly at U.S. International University in San Diego before transferring to Sacramento State. When our school dropped women’s golf, I decided to turn pro and see if I could make it. I came to realize that I really wasn’t that good.
I’ll never forget the day that I didn’t do well in a tournament, and I started to cry. It wasn’t that I didn’t win, I just felt like I had let myself down. I looked in the mirror the next day and said to myself, the game is not going to take you down like this. It’s not worth it. Six years went by before I picked up the sticks again. At one point, I applied to get my amateur status back, and it didn’t take long, because I made only $100 that whole year – and that was for an appearance fee!
After I started working and having kids, I needed an outlet. I went to the driving range to hit balls, and a woman there told me I should play in the San Diego city championship. I said I didn’t play competitively anymore, but she introduced me to Jamie Hoffman, who became my best friend. I finished second in that San Diego tournament, and I’ve never looked back.
The biggest lesson I can give to my son Tyler, who is trying to make it as a professional golfer, is not to put pressure on yourself like I did. Follow your dreams, but play because you love the game. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Once I took the pressure of pro golf away, lo and behold, I started to win: state championships, national championships, including the 2004 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.
If I didn’t have this game, my world would be very small. Instead, it’s grown by leaps and bounds. Every time I compete, I meet another person. And although we’re all competing, we’re also encouraging each other.
Brad Tilley, Easton, Conn.
Years Professional: 8
From an early age, I wanted to be a professional athlete. When golf seemed to be a natural talent of mine, it seemed realistic. After my playing career at the University of Virginia, turning pro was the next step for me. I was fortunate enough to play in three U.S. Amateurs along the way, and I knew it meant I’d be missing out on more of those. That was the only downside for me.
I was competing on both PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica, and I felt like I was continuing to improve as a player, but the results weren’t really matching up. I was on the road all year, and my wife and I were ready to have a family. That became a lot more important than chasing my pro golf dreams.
When I was looking to compete again, the Metropolitan Golf Association was a huge factor. It was so much fun playing in their events as an amateur. The opportunity to come back and play in those, and then, to try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur again, and now the U.S. Mid-Amateur, made applying to get my amateur status back an easy decision.
Allowing people to chase their dream of playing professional golf, and then, if things change, become an amateur again – I think that helps grow the game. If I couldn’t compete, I wouldn’t play as much. I hear, oh, you can just have a beer and relax. Well, I don’t really want to do that; I want to compete.
Now I get to be there for my two daughters, and I also get to compete against the best amateurs in the world. With the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion now earning a U.S. Open exemption, as well as an invitation to the Masters, I still get to chase my dream of playing in majors. These opportunities are incredible, and I’m grateful that amateur reinstatement makes them possible.
More details on the Rules of Amateur Status