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Life on PGA Tour has its ups and downs

But the money’s not bad, just ask Jin Park

What a difference a year makes.

In July 2007, professional golfer Jin Park was without status on any major tour in the United States. He spent his weeks trying to qualify into Nationwide and PGA Tour events and traveling places like Singapore and China for Asian Tour events.

It wasn’t an easy year.

But Park’s fortunes changed late in the season. He finished fourth at the Barclays Singapore Open, earning his biggest paycheck as a professional (nearly $200,000). Then came PGA Tour qualifying school, where Park placed fourth to earn his Tour card for the first time.

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Now Park is a rookie on the PGA Tour. And life is good, for the most part.

Park’s schedule is grueling. This year, he will spend only about 10 weeks at home with wife Judy and 1-year-old daughter Ellie in Scottsdale, Ariz. Park plays every PGA Tour event available to him, mainly because he’s trying to keep his Tour card. To do so, he must finish in the top 125 on the money list.

Park currently sits at No. 171 on the money list. Though he’s only 46 spots from the top 125, he’s more than $250,000 away from that

distinction.

But life on the PGA Tour isn’t so bad. Many weeks, Park’s wife and daughter travel with him. The PGA Tour makes it easy for family to travel with its players. Daycare is available for the children and entertainment is provided for wives and other family members.

The money is great, too. Park already has made more than $200,000 this season, which is a far cry from his days on the Nationwide Tour.

And his caddie was . . .

Park played in Byron two summers ago during the first Scholarship America Showdown at Somerby. His caddie for that event was yours truly. Park tied for eighth in Byron and earned $15,400 for his efforts. At the time, it was his best Nationwide Tour finish and biggest payday of his career.

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But those paydays are much bigger now and Park receives plenty of financial support from sponsors like Srixon and Citi. He earns a heafty paycheck when he performs well; in the past two weeks, he’s made more than $65,000.

The many perks of the PGA Tour aren’t too shabby, either. Park and other players are treated like royalty at most events.

I was able to see firsthand many of those perks during the weekend at the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. It’s the first time I’ve seen Park since he attempted to qualify into the Somerby event last summer. He didn’t make it into that event and was forced to fly out of Rochester much earlier than he had hoped.

But things have worked out pretty well for Park.

Though he’s grinding it out, trying to keep his Tour card, Park also is soaking up the experience. Park showed me part of that Tour experience this weekend — the behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t see on TV, like the sweet Buick Enclaves players drive and the fancy breakfast spread offered in the lavish clubhouse.

Putting it together

Park didn’t have his best stuff in Milwaukee, but he hit the ball very well, particularly on Saturday. Park missed only one fairway Saturday, but he missed five short putts and finished at 2-under for the round and 4-under for the tournament.

On Sunday, Park putted better and finished at 3-under for the round and 7-under for the championship, which left him in a tie for 44th place.

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Finishing 44th on the PGA Tour earned Park a paycheck of more than $12,000, nearly as much as he made for finishing eighth in Byron.

Park is still waiting for that monster payday with a breakthrough performance. A top-10 finish would earn him six figures, but so far his best finish is a tie for 18th, which came two weeks ago in at the John Deere Classic.

Park is so close to breaking through. His game just hasn’t come together at the right time. Once his putting and ball striking come together for a full weekend, you’ll see Park’s name on the leaderboard ... hopefully right at the top.

Ben Pherson is a Post-Bulletin sports writer. He can be reached at bpherson@postbulletin.com

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