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Players Championship

Why a 42-year-old KFT grad is the most interesting man at the Players Championship

March 13, 2024
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Andrew Wevers

How do you sum up a professional career of 20 years that has approached but never quite reached the top? How do you describe the long journeyman's path, littered with the memory of those who were just like you in every way except one: you never quit? The path that brings to the front lawn of TPC Sawgrass, where you sit in a semicircle on a sunny morning along with a litany of much younger men, with whom you have very little in common except that you're all playing in your first Players Championship? David Skinns, the 42-year-old Englishman and University of Tennessee alum, gave it his best shot, summarizing two winding decades in a monologue that lasted about two minutes:

"Straight out of college I was promised a bunch of invites on the Challenge Tour. Then I missed a cut and I never saw another one. So I gave up on the Challenge Tour pretty quickly," Skinns said. "Came back to America, played what was the Hooters Tour, which was good back then, honestly. It was really good. We paid a $700 entry fee to play for $200,000 each week ... Robert Brooks, the owner of Hooters, used to be very supportive, he gave a lot of money each year to keep the thing going. He died in about 2012, and when his son took over, he didn't want to fund the tour anymore, which was fair enough ... In between that I'd gotten some status on what was the Nationwide Tour back then, didn't get in many events, but there was mini-tour stuff all around to keep me going. Then I just kept getting to the final stage of Q School and not playing well at final stage of Q School. And then when PGA Tour Canada became a thing, I went up there the first year, got through that Q School, finished well enough to get through to final stage of Q School, and then did not play well again...Monday qualified on the Nationwide Tour a lot, but finished 101 on the money list at the end of the year to just miss out on having status, and then finally in 2016 I played well throughout the year in Canada, it got me to second stage of Q School, I played well and then finally played decent at final stage to get a full Korn Ferry Tour card. I was there '17, '18, '19, '20, '21, '23."

And now here he is, the Lincoln, England native, the oldest man making his first Players appearance, his short beard literally white, staring down his second bite at the PGA Tour apple. When you encounter a story like his, the first question that comes to mind is a simple one: Why didn't you quit?

"I've never not felt like this is what I'm supposed to do," he said. "I've always kind of had that belief: I'm a professional golfer. There's never been any thought of 'what else?' It's the only thing I can do."

And then there's this: Even through the struggles, the ups and downs, his best game has always been good enough to win—seven times on the Hooters Tour, three times on the Korn Ferry, including last year's Club Car Championship in Savannah, and then almost earlier this year on the PGA Tour, when he finished T-4 at the Cognizant Classic.

"Whatever level you're at, that's the level you need. I think that's always been the thing that keeps you coming back is when I do get it right, I can win. But we're all trying to figure out how to do it more often."

Drive three hours northwest from London on the M1, and you'll hit Nottingham. Switch to the A46 from there and take a turn northeast, and in an hour you'll reach the cathedral city of Lincoln, smack in the middle of the flattest county in England, with a slight ridge running through town. That's where Skinns grew up, with a father who played golf because he tore up his knee playing soccer (despite their proximity to Nottingham, they're all Manchester United supporters), batting balls around the fields of his town until he was allowed to join Canwick Park Golf Club at age 10. The course was built on the side of the ridge, and he spent his formative years there before moving to Lincoln Golf Club for the peak of his junior career. He finished runner-up at the Boys Amateur (an Under-17 tournament) in 2000, and parlayed that into an offer at the University of Tennessee. He excelled there, winning the SEC championship as a senior—and becoming a big college football fan along the way—and he expected that success to continue into the professional ranks.

"That's the way I thought it would go," he said, "but life doesn't always go the way you plan it."

So he took to the mini tours, and in one tournament at South Carolina, staying in guest housing on the course, he met his future wife Kristin, a former softball player from Pittsburgh. She had just moved to Atlanta with a friend, which is where David had settled, and two weeks later, they had their first date. Now, they have three sons, and like any journeyman who sticks with it as long as Skinns have, he gives plenty of credit to her.

"My wife works a full-time job [she's a global account consultant for Ricoh], she has three kids, one of them's still in daycare, and she's got so many balls in the air. She just keeps everything going when I'm not there...and she keeps it going when I am there. She gets stressed, she gets tired, she gets all of that stuff, but she does everything. She keeps the cogs turning."

With time, Skinns became about as Americanized as you can be. He loves baseball—he'll talk as long as you want about the prospects of the 2024 Atlanta Braves—and thinks that if he grew up here, he never would have played golf, such is his affinity for baseball. His family are regulars at Gwinnett Strikers games, and you only need to look at the names of his children to see how much American culture has infiltrated the Skinns family: Brayden, Bennett, Colt.

Now, with his second chance on the PGA Tour, he finds himself in the same class as players like Nick Dunlap, and Ludvig Aberg, and Akshay Bhatia, and Nicolai Hojgaard—about to take his maiden voyage at the PGA Tour's flagship event. He marveled at players like Dunlap, and the incredible opportunity that he would have loved to experience himself 20 years ago, and at others like Scottie Scheffler who stopped briefly on the KFT while Skinns was there, and seemed to have all the composure and maturity required for the big stage immediately, as if he had no need to spend the long years accumulating the wisdom it takes people like him to crack the code.

But in strange ways, the respect is mutual. Viktor Hovland, whose experience is about as far removed from Skinns' path as could be imagined in the professional world, was effusive on players who show his kind of long term resilience.

"I've seen him around there, and he had a chance to win Honda a couple weeks ago I think I saw. So he's obviously a great player," Hovland said. "I think the guys that persist without getting some sort of results for a long time, they're kind of looked at as maybe losers, or they're kind of delusional like, 'hey, why do you keep playing, why don't you do something else, you're clearly not on a path to where you want to get?' So, the guys who persist and they end up successful in the future, that's really cool."

That's Skinns' great skill: Enduring. On the eve of his Sawgrass debut, he retains the optimism that has kept the engines turning for all these years, with a dash of some classic English realism thrown in.

"I'm not going to change the shape of my game now," he said. "I'm 42. I'm not going to all of the sudden become this top-5 ball striker in the world or anything like that. I've just got to get better at what I do. It's kind of like polishing the bowling ball ... but I guess that's the beauty of golf. There's no reason why I can't get better at 42."