At Q-school Fathauer exhibited a maturity far beyond his years and experience.
Watching the tortures of PGA Tour Qualifying School one night, Craig Harmon was amazed at the calm being shown by Derek Fathauer. The teaching pro from the legendary golfing family had seen the young man hit the range at McArthur GC in Hobe Sound, Fla., where he teaches during the winter, but what amazed Harmon was Fathauer's demeanor. It hadn't changed, even in the face of golf's most grueling examination. "I've seen him hit balls and to my eye, you could see the talent," Harmon said. "But you talk about somebody coming out of the blue to play the tour, you'd have to say Derek is the poster child for that."
The mop-haired Louisville All-American in the old-school visor who grew up in laid-back Jensen Beach, Fla., didn't come up through the junior golf ranks, wasn't a product of a teaching academy, and spent as much time fishing and surfing as he did beating balls. He flew under the USGA radar for the Walker Cup team, even though he made the cut last summer as an amateur in the U.S. Open. But that's all right.
He's at the Sony Open this week and a lot of recent college stars are not. Fathauer is the tour's youngest rookie -- he turns 23 on Jan. 20 -- getting his card by passing through all three stages of qualifying and finishing second in the Q-school final. It's still unknown whether he'll stick on tour, but Fathauer has Nick Price's seal of approval -- McArthur, being Price's club -- and that's not just favoritism talking.
"What a game this guy's got," said Price, who played a round with Fathauer before the Q-school final and watched him play at the club this winter, including its Milk Jug tournament. "Everything is anti-left and the guy's never had a lesson, which makes it more amazing. He's got an incredible short game and the silkiest stroke ever. This is raw talent. To be honest, you don't come across kids like this too often."
What strikes Price most is the chord that struck Harmon -- Fathauer's disposition. "Quiet but confident," he said. "This is something he has been looking forward to his whole life. And it's not money; it's the days on the PGA Tour. He loves playing the game."
Fathauer has signed up for every tournament on the West Coast swing. If he doesn't get in, he'll fly back to Florida, get in a boat with twin brother Daryl, and cruise around Sailfish Point, or to this spot they've got 15 miles offshore, and drift as far from the game as possible. One thing this kid doesn't have to worry about is burnout.
"There's more to it than just playing golf tournaments," Fathauer says. "I enjoy hanging out with friends, living a normal life, not traveling every week to golf tournaments. I didn't think about it at the time, but when I look back on it, I wouldn't do it any [other] way. I've got so many friends who aren't golfers, who are successful in so many ways. I wouldn't want to travel all those weeks and miss all that."
Fathauer may have been given an education in golf at McArthur, but he is no country-club kid. Growing up, his father worked along the waterfront selling boats and outboard engines. Jay and Barb Fathauer were not the classic "golf parents." You were more likely to see them at Jimmy Buffet concert than the buffet line at an AJGA event.
Fathauer only recently purchased his first car, a Chevy Tahoe, so he can store his clubs and his fishing gear. His only piece of furniture is a coffee table he bought at McArthur for $50 when the club was hosting an in-house garage sale. "Fathy," as he's known, dug deep to spend some of his caddie money. "I didn't have a car to drive off with it, so I had to put it in the back of a buddy's truck," Fathauer says. "The new Tahoe, it's pretty cool. Murph (Kevin Murphy, the club's director of golf) said I could fit the coffee table in it."
On his bag this week is Chad Gates, a teammate at Martin County High and his caddie last summer at Torrey Pines, where Fathauer finished T-69. At Qualifying School, he went with another high school teammate, Kevin Clarke. For their day jobs, Gates and Clarke work out of Murphy's pro shop at McArthur.
The down-to-earth attitude is real and so is Fathauer's calm. Behind it is simple logic. "I'm pretty good about going out and playing, not putting any pressure on anything, just going out and having fun," he says. "I know a lot of good players who aren't in my shoes who should be. If I wasn't here I'd be playing mini tours in Florida, so I can't complain no matter how bad I'm hitting it. I know millions of people who wish they were in my shoes."