Daily file photo by Brian Lee
In a summer when many of his classmates are buried with job application duties or internship responsibilities, Jack Perry will be doing something eminently more frightening.
The graduating Northwestern senior will try his hand as a professional golfer.
Perry is a two-time member of the All-Big Ten first team and a 2013 All-America honoree, and holds the third-best scoring average in NU history, but the paid golfing circuit tends to scoff at any list of amateur achievements.
The pro game has swallowed the souls of much bigger fish than this 21-year-old Santa Barbara lad, with the names Eddie Pearce, Bobby Clampett and Tom Weiskopf coming to mind for golfing flameouts.
Of course these three were prodigal sons who, while vast underachievers, still enjoyed extended stays in the professional game. Perry can’t even take that much for granted and is more than likely to face a few moments where he questions whether he can really make a living playing this godforsaken game.
If one wishes to survive in a cesspool of drowned expectations, there’s only one way to handle the adversity: Embrace it.
“You’re lonely and you’re going to struggle,” Perry said. “It’s just about overcoming that struggle and loving that struggle and turning yourself over to the experience. It’s your dream, and if you like it that much, you’re going to be successful. I’m willing to struggle because that’s where I’m going to separate from people.”
Perry isn’t delaying his foray into the struggle. The graduating senior will turn pro as soon as he can. He considers U.S. Open sectional qualifying on Monday his pro debut, whether or not he is officially designated as such. And if he advances onto the U.S. Open, he will be considered a professional in the year’s second major and will get his first crack at making money playing golf.
Whatever happens at sectionals, Perry’s plan for the opening stage of his professional career is to play in a number of state opens throughout the Midwest during the summer in preparation for a fall trip to Web.com Tour Q-School. As a player with likely virtually no professional record at that point, Perry will have to run the gauntlet, passing through all three stages of Q-School in order to earn a 2014 card for the PGA Tour’s minor league circuit.
It’s a difficult path on an already unforgiving circuit, one that will require truckloads of grit. Fortunately, Perry has been adept at that, as he’s proven with his consistent ability to turn his poor rounds into decent or even exemplary scores. And he has the blessing of the person who has followed his play most closely over the past four years.
“Jack has a tremendous opportunity in professional golf,” coach Pat Goss said. “He’s incredibly driven, has as good a work ethic or possibly a better work ethic than anyone I’ve ever been around for golf.”
Goss also raves about Perry’s progression in his short game and putting, both of which the coach contends have blossomed into high-level strengths. Additionally, the departing senior’s intangibles and ability both to go low and salvage subpar play earn high praise. He’s also no stranger to winning, evidenced by three individual titles in his college years.
But shouldn’t a player with such a resume be shooting for a higher initial path?
Perry has prepared a best-case scenario. If he qualifies for the U.S. Open and plays the best golf of his life that week, certain avenues could open up. A win would secure him his PGA Tour card for years, and a memorable coming-out party that leads to a high finish could mean numerous sponsors’ exemptions into other tour events (as a non-member, Perry would be eligible for up to seven of those the rest of this season. If he can play well enough on these very limited opportunities to earn enough to place him the equivalent of 200th or higher on the PGA Tour money list, he would be eligible for the Web.com Tour Finals, where a great showing would earn him his 2014-2015 PGA Tour card.
Those are all fanciful options but not exceedingly practical. And what of the fact that many All-Americans before Perry floundered as professionals?
On top of his pupil’s main assets, Goss said Perry is still on the upswing in terms of his golfing education.
“Jack hasn’t peaked yet,” Goss said. “He’s shown a steady and continuous progression. His trajectory has continued to arc upward and will continue to arc upward. A lot of those guys that don’t make it haven’t developed the skills Jack has and also their trajectory got high and then they stopped moving forward.”
Perry can also take solace in the fact that professional golf has entered an era where the youth no longer fear instant success. The tales of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley and the like are well-versed. Less publicized is Carlos Ortiz, a North Texas grad who never earned an All-American designation and was not even the best player on his team his senior season, yet leads the Web.com Tour money list by a wide margin in his rookie campaign.
Perry has always been confident and expects to pass through Q-School. He may not quite expect a season like the one Ortiz has had, but his goals aren’t far off.
“I want to win on the Web.com Tour next year,” Perry said. “That’s the only goal I’m working toward, because if that happens, then other stuff will come along.”
Northwestern has a long list of golfers who have tried their hand on the pro circuit. Luke Donald is clearly the most successful of the bunch, with Jess Daley and Tom Johnson also having extended stays. Chris Wilson, David Lipsky, Eric Chun and Sam Chien also currently play professionally on various tours.
Perry says he has already sought advice from those he is trying to emulate. The 21-year-old certainly has his flaws: He’s not a short-hitter but could use more distance at the pro level, and Perry points to better ball-striking and wedge play as necessities as well.
So where do Perry’s chances of finding his way in the pros stack up compared to his NU counterparts? Pretty well, according to his coach.
“Jack has really developed his skill set, that if he continues on the same trajectory, it will translate well to professional golf,” Goss said. “He’s exhibiting the same skill sets they did that have served them well. So I think we’ll see similar results from him.”
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