December 1, 2008

Driven at home toward tour

Riley's priorities have him understanding meaning of success

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The driven tend to reap the greater benefits in this fickle game, but who can argue that Chris Riley hasn't been rewarded more for having had his focus diverted elsewhere? If fatherhood comes with a price, he isn't opposed to paying it, even if it meant a return to Q school.

Riley is a former Ryder Cup player and PGA Tour winner, whose young family inextricably altered his perspective and by extension his career. He hasn't had a PGA Tour exemption since 2005.

"I think you almost get burned out on tour," he said. "When you're in your 20s you're by yourself or with your girlfriend or wife and then kids come along and that pretty much changed my whole world, which is for the best.

"I've experienced things at golf that I thought I never would, and when I did, it wasn't that big a deal. I don't live or die for golf as some people do. Money doesn't drive me. My family drives me. That's pretty much what I'm playing for."

Daughters Taylor, 4, and Rose, 2, have given him reason for re-discovering success. Entering the Monday's final round of Q school, Riley is poised to return to the PGA Tour full time. He has played five consecutive sub-par rounds, including a 69 on the Stadium Course on Sunday, and is tied for 16th.

"I'm playing good and I'm feeling good," he said, noting his intention to haul his family to Honolulu for the Sony Open in January should he regain his playing privileges. "Whatever's meant to happen will happen, but I feel pretty good about things.

His game never fully deserted him, he said, noting that shifting priorities were enough to knock him off balance. "It's really close, not close being Tiger Woods, but close from being here at tour school or 110th on the money list. It's a really fine line.

"When I was in my 20s, I didn't know what I was doing. I was just playing golf and making money and having fun. It's harder when you get older. You know what to expect. You know what's going on. You do more thinking. The older you get the more analytical you get. It's not that big a difference, but obviously on paper it is."

In the meantime, Riley found his comfort zone and it wasn't on the golf course, chasing dreams and six or even seven-figure paydays. It was home with wife Michelle and the kids.

"Some people love money," he said. "I'm not going to say names, but I know a lot of people out here who love money, who love buying toys, and that drives them. It doesn't do anything for me. Don't get me wrong. I like nice things, but I'm not one of those guys who want more, more, more."

What he does want is his job back, and entering the pressure chamber of a final round of Q school he is counting on his experience to deliver it for him.

"Hopefully that will pay off tomorrow," he said, "and it won't be as grueling as it can be."