Meet the Air Force captain playing on the PGA Tour this week
(Note: This story was originally published July 1.)
Captain Kyle Westmoreland had the briefest of moments to talk. He is unfailingly polite and accommodating, but he has just arrived in Colorado Springs from Farmington, Utah, and his stay in the Rockies will be short due to a plane ride to Erie, Pa., in the afternoon. The life of an Air Force man is spent in the sky, after all. Especially one trying to turn his wings into a tour card.
"We've been planning this for some time, but right now it can feel like a whirlwind,” Westmoreland says.
There have been a handful of notable Monday qualifiers this year—Corey Conners winning the PGA Tour's Texas Open, Doc Redman securing temporary membership on the big tour in Detroit—but the most intriguing is Westmoreland. The 27-year-old shot a bogey-free 64 last week at TalonsCove Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, Utah, to earn a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Utah Championship. It's an impressive feat in itself, but more so when realizing the week was supposed to be his official exit from the United States Air Force.
“The [final] interview was supposed to be on Friday [during the second round], so we had to push it back to this Wednesday,” Westmoreland explains. “Now we have to push it off again.”
That’s because Westmoreland made the cut at Utah's Oakridge Country Club with a six-under-par score, and despite severe weather on the weekend, he managed to keep cool to turn in a seven-under 277, good enough for a T-25 finish. Those finishing among the top 25 at a Korn Ferry event are automatically exempt into the next tournament, which is why Westmoreland is heading east to the LECOM Health Challenge in Findley Lake, N.Y., and postponing that exit interview another week.
Each pushback means Westmoreland stays in the service a bit longer. “They’re OK with it, although they’ll probably give me the boot soon,” Westmoreland says.
Which is a fair trade, considering Westmoreland has already postponed his dream for his country.
Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank - Final Round
FARMINGTON, UT - JUNE 30: Kyle Westmorelandplays a tee shot on the first hole during the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour's Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank at Oakridge Country Club on June 30, 2019 in Farmington, Utah. ((Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
A native of Katy, Texas, Westmoreland is one of the most decorated golfers in Air Force Academy history. In college, he earned all-region honors as a senior and competed in the NCAA Regionals twice. As a senior, Westmoreland placed fourth at the 2014 Mountain West Conference Championship, the highest finish for an Air Force golfer since 1985, and was named the Academy's most valuable male athlete.
That success conferred Westmoreland options. Instead of a 12-year service commitment, he had the chance to take a five-year term, allowing him the opportunity to make a run at professional golf while he was still in his athletic prime. It was a path already taken by fellow servicemen Billy Hurley III (an economics teacher and electronic division officer for the Navy) and Tom Whitney (a nuclear-missile operator from Air Force) in their pursuit of the PGA Tour.
“To see what those guys did, and how they did it, was inspirational,” Westmoreland says. “It gave me the confidence that, as tough as this would be, I could ultimately achieve my goal.”
After graduation in 2014, Westmoreland spent the next three years stationed in Charleston, S.C., and Biloxi, Miss., working in the Air Force’s financial-management division. His access to golf was limited during this time, although he was able to carve out the occasional practice session at night on a lighted practice range in Charleston. Through a connection at the College of Charleston, Westmoreland would play on the weekend with the school’s golf team to give him a semblance of competition.
In 2017, he was called back to the Academy in a combative-instructor role, which Westmoreland describes as a mix of wrestling and ground grappling. “Hey, I get paid to wear a mouthpiece, so you know it’s not a bad gig,” he says.
Before his return to Colorado Springs, Westmoreland had a month leave, which he spent trying to Monday qualify at Web.com Tour events. He succeeded twice, gaining entry into the Wichita Open and the Ellie Mae Classic. Though he missed both cuts, it instilled confidence that his “weekend warrior” game wasn’t that far off from those spending every waking hour with the sport.
His job and service to the Air Force remained his priority, without discussion. Conversely, Westmoreland knew he would be afforded a tad more practice time back at the Academy. Through his college coach, Chris Wilson, Westmoreland came to know Allen Terrell, former Coastal Carolina men's coach and Dustin Johnson’s current swing instructor. Together they assembled a plan to make the most of Westmoreland’s limited schedule and get him ready for the mini-circuits.
The work showed in Utah. Making his first professional start in two years, Westmoreland was what you’d expect out of a pilot: tactical, patient, composed and precise, compiling the second-most birdies in the field. However, lest you get the idea Westmoreland is merely surgical, know there's brawn to match the brains. In terms of physicality, he is more Captain America than Pete (Maverick) Mitchell. He was fifth in driving at the Utah Championship, averaging 341.1 yards on the week. It's a combination that makes one believe Westmoreland can be more than a one-week wonder.
“We kind of ramped up the practice-schedule game plan of how we were going to be ready to go for the summer, and we executed it pretty well,” said Westmoreland, who intends to keep his home base in Colorado Springs with his wife, Erin. “I think I was more prepared this time than two years ago.”
He will need that mind-set for the journey ahead. His focus is on December’s Korn Ferry Qualifying Tournament. That means a host of state opens, Monday qualifiers, events off the grid. “Basically as many rounds as possible in July and August to get ready for the fall,” he says. Westmoreland received a sponsor's exemption into this week's PGA Tour's A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, a chance for some real reps, and bank, before Q school.
The tour is the end goal, which at the moment feels, and is, miles away. Westmoreland concedes it’s not exactly a direct flight. But after years of dreaming about the chance, the captain is finally in the pilot’s seat.
“It’s a long shot,” Westmoreland says. “But I’m thankful for it.”
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