News & ToursJuly 7, 2015

Enjoying the journey into the winner's circle on the Tour

Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the July 6, 2015 issue of Golf World.

Reality set in for Rob Oppenheim last Monday morning. After taking it deep in a local Wichita bar celebrating his first Tour victory, Oppenheim awoke to a travel day that took him to Chicago, then Toronto, then Halifax. Just because he had won the Air Capital Classic didn't mean Oppenheim was exempt from his life as a journeyman.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs, but there's no question this has been the biggest win and the biggest step in my career," Oppenheim said when I reached him at the Tour's Nova Scotia Open. "To be that much closer to being a player on the PGA Tour is kind of like a dream."

At 35, with a 2-year-old daughter and a pregnant wife at home in Winter Park, Fla., Oppenheim earned his first title in 129 Tour starts and moved to 13th on the money list with $146,227 after winning $108,000 with his closing 64. With seven events left in the regular season, he is virtually assured of finishing among the tour's top 25 money winners and, for the first time, be exempt to play the big tour.

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The veritable bonanza comes not long after a career crisis. In 2014, Oppenheim remembers being in a lonely hotel room in Ocala, Fla., on the verge of considering another job.

Without full exempt status on the Tour, Oppenheim was Monday qualifying and bouncing back to the mini-tours when he didn't get into fields. Driving home after a T-33 on the Tour, the $800 it paid not covering his $1,400 entry fee, Oppenheim received a call from Jay Golden, a teaching pro he has known since his days at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. "I didn't have much money to pay him," Oppenheim admits. "He was like, Don't worry about it.' "

They worked at the Winter Park muny and, with Golden caddieing, Oppenheim finished T-4 a month later in the's South Georgia Classic. That exempted Oppenheim for most of the remaining events in 2014. But he was still back at Tour Qualifying School in December, playing his final nine holes at PGA National, when he struck the most important shot of his life.

On the number to get a card, Oppenheim jarred a 5-iron on the par-3 fifth of the Champion course. That ace ultimately meant the difference between exempt status and another year of agonizing Mondays.

"I can honestly say I was more nervous trying to close out that Q school than I was at Wichita the last nine holes," Oppenheim said. "At Wichita I was just trying to go as low as I could and shoot a number. At Q school you're thinking, Try not to mess up. Try not to make a big number."

The journeyman journeys on, knowing the is about the only way to get to the PGA Tour nowadays. When he arrived home in Orlando on Saturday after missing the cut in Nova Scotia, congratulatory letters were awaiting, including one from Arnold Palmer, whom Oppenheim met when Rollins practiced at Bay Hill.

Reality sets back in Tuesday morning, when he heads back to the airport for a flight to Idaho for the Albertsons Boise Open. "You've gotta love golf," Oppenheim says. "I don't think you can do this unless you really love the game."

Follow @TimRosaforte


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