COLUMBUS, Ohio - Having tested his skills on the mini-tours before embarking on a career as a teaching professional, Gerry Hammond knows how difficult the road can be for aspiring tour professionals, especially when their biggest obstacle is money.
His solution is the Xempt Player Series, a nationwide three-stage competition designed to provide financial assistance to players who otherwise lack the resources to pursue a pro career.
"I understand how hard it is, because I've been there, and I know what it's like to get to a certain point and then you can't go any farther because the money just isn't there," said Hammond, 43, director of golf instruction at Jefferson CC in Blacklick, Ohio. "To me it's a more responsible and realistic way for some players who want to see if they are good enough give it a try for what is a minimal investment compared to trying to come up with $30,000 or $40,000 right off the bat. There are so many good players out there who love the game and have the skill sets but run into that same old barrier."
Entry fee is $1,100 per player with the first stage local qualifiers at 32 sites running from April to June. The maximum field is 120 players per site. The top 16 players after 36 holes advance to five regional sites for a 54-hole tournament, and the top 24 in each regional advances to the final stage.
The inaugural XPS Championship is scheduled for Aug. 8-11 at Columbus Country Club, site of the 1964 PGA Championship. The top 10 finishers in the 72-hole competition each will receive a $50,000 stipend in addition to their tournament winnings to use for their respective qualifying school fees and any other expenses associated with pursuing a tour career. First prize is $36,000. Total prize money exceeds $1 million.
The series is open to men, women and seniors, pros and amateurs, the latter who must carry at least a 4.0 USGA Handicap Index. Professionals with active status on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Nationwide Tour or LPGA Tour are ineligible.
Hammond, a Columbus native, came up with the idea about seven years ago, he said, but he's only now getting a chance to implement it with some assistance from International Management Group in Cleveland. Former IMG marketing executive Craig Umland serves as the XPS tournament director.
"I tucked it in a file cabinet and kind of let it sit there," Hammond said. "But after teaching youngsters, seeing some of them develop their games, go on to college, win tournaments, but then not really having the wherewithal to go farther, I figured it was time to see if this could work."
Hammond took a shot at the mini-tours in Florida after graduating from Saint Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C., in 1992. Originally recruited to play basketball for Ohio University, he transferred to Division II St. Augustine in 1989, but tried out for and made the golf team as a walk-on and left his basketball days behind.
"I had some success, but I needed time, and I had to decide if I wanted to go all in or pursue another avenue," said Hammond, one of the few African-American Class A PGA professionals in the country. "We think of this as a scholarship. The money is theirs free and clear to use as they see fit to further their golf careers."
The ultimate goal, Hammond said, is to create similar initiatives internationally, with an immediate eye on Korea and other parts of Asia.
Entry and site information can be found at www.xemptplayerseries.com.
-- Dave Shedloski