Mid-Amateur Provides Renaissance for Former Pros
October 7, 2017 | Atlanta, Ga.
By Stuart Hall
From an early age, Finley Ewing IV was of the mindset that he would one day become a professional golfer.
“I wanted to play golf in college, then I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods,” he said. “Golf meant everything to me.”
For a while that dream was unfolding nicely. After a four-year collegiate career at Texas Tech University in which he progressively improved, Ewing signed with a sports management firm and headed off to Web.com and European Tour qualifying tournaments in the fall of 2013.
Not long into that process, though, Ewing had an epiphany.
The moment came on an early November day, after the third round of the European Tour’s second qualifying stage at Valle Romano Golf in Spain. Among one of the early groups, Ewing opened with a birdie. That was immediately followed by a quadruple bogey. After three holes, play was suspended when heavy winds and rain were causing idle golf balls to roll off the green.
Ewing thought, given the inclement weather, the entire round might be canceled. Play eventually resumed and Ewing proceeded to card six bogeys, along with a triple bogey to shoot an 11-over-par 82.
“I got in the car after that and started crying, thinking ‘What in the world am I doing right now?’” Ewing said. “At that point, I knew golf really meant too much to me. I was single, living by myself, but if it meant that much to me right then, I couldn’t imagine if I had a family to support. And travelling every week.”
The following spring he played briefly on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica before calling it quits.
“It was almost impossible to get to that point,” said Finley, 27, of Dallas, Texas. “Because of the emotional ups and downs all the time, I was beginning to lose a passion for golf that I never thought I could lose.
“So, it was either be a pro golfer and stick it out, and probably not like it, but I will be around it forever. Or I can get out now, play some amateur golf for the rest of my life and have fun with my friends and sleep in my own bed every night.”
Ewing chose the latter and went to work for the family-owned automotive business. Nearly a year after calling it quits as a professional, he regained his amateur status. This week, he’s competing in the 37th U.S. Mid-Amateur at the Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course and stroke-play co-host Atlanta National Golf Club.
What led Ewing back to the amateur game is a story that can be told in various forms by 43 percent of this week’s 264-player field.
Brian Quackenbush, 46, of Aiken, S.C., has been reinstated twice. The first time came in the late 1990s after his collegiate playing days at the University of Virginia. He became a club professional, including a stint at Druid Hills Golf Club near downtown Atlanta, the stroke play co-host for the 2001 U.S. Amateur.
“I wasn’t getting a chance to play a whole lot basically, so I fell back on my finance and database background and got reinstated the first time,” he said.
Quackenbush then began to ascend in the amateur ranks, climbing to No. 2 in one golf publication’s ranking and winning the 2002 Northeast Amateur. His improved play was an impetus to try professional golf again.
He mostly played the mini-tour circuit, but twice Quackenbush reached the second stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and, in 2007, made four of six cuts on the Nationwide Tour (now Web.com Tour). A nagging injury, though, forced Quackenbush to seek a second amateur reinstatement, which he received in 2009.
Quackenbush, a data integration specialist, said it’s not difficult to accept that his game may not be as sharp as it once was.
“I want to win and want to do well,” he said, “but the reality is I still get paid every two weeks regardless if I play well or bad.
“I miss the continuous challenge of improving my game, focusing on it and being competitive all the time. But that can be kind of be a grind.”
Ray Floyd Jr. can relate.
The son of four-time major champion Raymond Floyd, who won the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, played collegiately at Wake Forest University before trying professional golf, including stints on the South African and Nike tours.
It was a round of golf with his father and a long-time family friend with Wall Street ties that led Floyd into the financial sector. Today, Floyd, 43, of Old Greenwich, Conn., is a sales trader for a Greenwich-based firm.
“It’s funny because I am playing such better golf now than even when I was in college,” said Floyd. “I have a career and a family, and golf is such a tertiary thing for me. It’s not the end-all, be-all because the pressure isn’t there.”
Nevertheless, Floyd still likes the high-level competition, and there are the occasional days and stretches, “when I am playing really well and I think [playing professional] would be such a great life.”
Floyd, who is making his seventh U.S. Mid-Amateur appearance, said his father always tried to dissuade him and his brother, Robert, from playing professionally. Robert, too, has regained his amateur status.
"He said, `You've only seen the top,’” adding that back in the day guys were always grinding and paychecks were not what they are,” Floyd said. “I know what he meant.”
Those other 113 players in this week’s field who, like Floyd, are reinstated amateurs also know.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.