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Malnati's thinking: I've carried my bag in 97 percent of the tournaments I've played. If they let you do that on this tour, I would. And since we just met, I wouldn't trust you to do anything but carry the bag anyhow. I know that you caddies all have an agreement not to work for less than $700 a week. For me, now, paying a local high-schooler is just fine, thank you very much.
Of course, Malnati doesn't say a word of this. And as it turns out, this stranger is different. Soft-spoken, respectful. Malnati takes his number. He might be playing Salt Lake City in a few weeks and doesn't know a soul in Utah.
The feat that hordes attempt but few succeed at is "Mondaying," which can be conjugated like any old verb:
• "Jack Monday'd in."
• "If Jack Mondays, he'll have to book a new flight."
• "Jack hoped he'd never have to Monday again."
An entry fee is $450, but that cost rises quickly when you start adding hotels and flights. With typically 200 or more players for 12 spots, sometimes even a 66 won't make it. But once you're in, if you finish in the top 25, you're in the next week's event. Malnati did this six times in seven tournaments.
You can even Monday by accident. That's what happened to Will Wilcox, a trim Alabamian who's mad his clothes sponsor can't send him trousers with a size 30 waist instead of 32. Wilcox drove to a qualifier "just to get it over with; wasn't excited at all that it could change my life or anything." When he shot 68, a real part of him would've preferred to drive home and see his girlfriend and play a mini-tour event.
"I go from having 50 friends on the mini-tours to having, like, two, and you quickly realize how much everybody wants to beat each other," Wilcox says. "On the smaller tours, everyone is patting each other on the back."
Wilcox started running with a crowd that partied, and in one stretch he didn't make a cut for three months. Then he said he had to disprove a rumor that he'd moved his coin on a green. This season, Wilcox finished seventh on the money list and shot a 59. "Now that people realize I'm not some sketchy kid, I've had guys come up and apologize to me. Sixty tournaments later, thanks."
Wilcox, who likes the Homewood Suites brand of hotels, now teetotals on the road and works out daily to ensure a good sleep. He says no to every concert invitation. Instead, he drinks rum when he's at the St. Croix condo of his childhood friend, whose father is his financial backer.
"I've gotten better about being a professional. Not getting emotional and just accepting that you're always under the microscope," says Wilcox, who's looking forward to maybe getting pants that fit now that he'll be on the PGA Tour.
HOST FAMILIESAny young men wanting, or not minding, a parental hearth can have one. Each week, about a third of the field stays with host families. Often the homes are directly on the course, because the tour visits many clubs where the real estate is integrated. "It's nice saving the hotel money, plus we really enjoy meeting people," says Hadley, who with his wife, Amanda, is expecting their first child. She usually follows a few holes but then darts back to the host home to use the Wi-Fi for her IT job. Everyone who hosts the Hadleys falls in love with them. A former class president and Palmer Cupper, the star rookie lists his dream foursome as Ben Hogan, Jesus and Ronald Reagan. Not every player is as congenial.
"We had a kid who missed the cut but then stuck around until Tuesday," a regular host at the Cox Classic told me. "It seemed he was having a pretty good time."
Some players stick to hotels, even if it means sharing a room. "I like to eat when I want, sleep when I want, do what I want," says Franklin Corpening, 41st on the money list.
"I've had some random roommates," says Erik Flores, 153rd. "People are very open, especially when we travel to South America and the host hotels are really pricey."
Learning to travel: Every newly minted pro attributes his bad play to it. And it's a fair guess. "Going from playing a dozen events a year in college to out here, stretches of eight or nine in a row," Flores says. "You had coach holding your hand, school paying for everything—all you had to do was show up and pack the right clothes." A Californian, Flores recently moved to Charlotte so he could drive to more events and wake up in fewer time zones. As for food, he's stepping away from the free buffet. "It's not that it's bad," he says. "There are just a lot of mass-produced, industrial-type products."