Professional golf's gain was college golf's loss today when Daniel Summerhays made his pro debut, shooting a even-par 71 at the Nationwide Tour's Cox Classic in Omaha, Neb. Three weeks ago this was a sentence the 23-year-old from Provo, Utah had no idea anyone would be writing. If you're asking me, though, it's about six weeks earlier than the sentence should have be written.
Having played well enough as a junior at BYU this past college season to be named a first-team All-American--recall he shot a 60 to tie the NCAA 18-hole scoring mark last fall--Summerhays earned a special exemption into the Nationwide Tour stop at Ohio State's Scarlet Course earlier this month. Once there, he managed to win the darn thing, shooting a six-under-par 278 and putting an abrupt end to his summer vacation.
Becoming the first amateur to claim victory in a Nationwide Tour event, Summerhays had 60 days to turn professional and receive full-exempt status on the tour through 2008. The grace period coincidentally (and conveniently) would have allowed him to compete for the U.S. in the Walker Cup at Northern Ireland's Royal County Down this September. (His victory likely earned him a spot on the 10-man roster.)
Instead of sticking around to play for the USA, or for one more year at BYU, Summerhays decided to strike while the iron is hot, turning pro immediately with the idea of playing enough Nationwide Tour events between now and the end of the year to get into the top 25 on the tour's money list and earn a PGA Tour card.
"I don't know what playing in the Walker Cup could have done for my career that winning on the Nationwide Tour didn't do last week," he said. "My value to sponsors is probably higher right now than it would have been if I waited almost two months to play in the Walker Cup."
Summerhays is a personable, mature young man who, like his older brother Boyd, spent two years away from the game while serving a Mormon mission in Chile in 2003-04. No doubt he and his wife, Emily, made a thorough review of his options here; prior to the win, he intended to return to BYU for the fall of his senior year but likely was going to go PGA Tour Q school as an amateur. I just hope that five, 10 years from now he doesn't regret not waiting a few more weeks to make the move to the pros.
Ultimately, the experience of playing in the Walker Cup is one that most participants say only exceeds their expectations. Sure, Summerhays would have had fewer events to try and claim a PGA Tour card, but he would have been richer for it via the experience of playing for his country in such a premier event.
** Another player who will have to decide whether or not to turn professional in the next few months is Colt Knost, who finished up his college career at SMU last spring and recently won the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Knost will remain an amateur at least through the summer, hoping to be picked for the Walker Cup team (my guess is he secured a spot with his recent impressive triumph). The question then is whether he stays an amateur through next April and play in the Masters, an invitation being given to APL champions since 1989 provided they're still amateurs.
If Knost waits, he does put his career on hold for a while as he was going to try to play in Q school this fall. That's asking a lot for Knost, who unlike Summerhays, has used up his college eligibility.
The simple solution for Knost is to continue to get ready for Q school but enter as an amateur. If he gets to the final stage and assures himself status on the Nationwide or PGA Tour, turn pro and get a jump on your career. If he doesn't, he's still an amateur, still gets to play at Augusta National in April and makes the jump the next week, perhaps even with a little more name recognition (leading to more sponsors dollars) because he played well as an amateur in the Masters.