For every Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, there are hundreds of professional golfers scraping by for a living, thirsting for success.
The practice range at every mini-tour event around the world is covered with wannabe’s with perfect swings, impressive resumes and unquestioned ambition. They see the glamour, the fame and, yes, the money that awaits them if they improve their scores by one or two strokes per round.
That’s the difference – sometimes no more than a made 4-foot putt or 10 additional yards off the tee – that separates the headline makers and the stars from the players stuck in the small print.
That’s why you must admire Ryan Thornberry of Ceres, who continues his chase toward golf’s big-time.
“I have a lot of belief in myself, even though I haven’t played up to my potential the last few years,” he said Tuesday. “The faith I have in myself has kept me moving forward.”
Thornberry, 29, has slogged on golf’s various satellite circuits for seven years since his standout seasons as an NCAA Division II All-American at Cal State Stanislaus. It hasn’t been easy nor lucrative for Thornberry, who cut his golf teeth at River Oaks’ popular youth program many years ago.
He’s still out there, however, and he hasn’t given up.
Thornberry has earned conditional status for the first time on the Web.com Tour, the final step below the riches of the PGA Tour. It’s an incremental step, granted, but only he knows the true difficulty of his road.
Thornberry survived the first two stages of the Web.com’s qualifying tournament late last year and reached the finals at PGA West. No fulltime PGA Tour cards are awarded in this event – the top 25 on the tour’s money list are promoted each year – but the top 45 finishers are awarded eight exemptions for the upcoming year.
The Ceres product placed 135th, resulting in his conditional status. He must wait his turn to enroll his name in a Web.com tournament (the circuit starts next month). Thornberry figures to not gain a spot in a field until sometime around May.
Until then, he’ll pursue three options: 1. Some thankless Monday Web.com qualifiers, 2. Competition on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica during the spring and fall, and the PGA Tour Canada this summer. Because he clawed his way into the Web.com Q-School finals, he has status on both tours.
This is where Thornberry has competed the last few years, so he’s familiar with many of the courses. What’s more encouraging, however, is the feeling that he has sharpened his game. Thornberry has worked over the past year with Bill Johnson, the lead instructor at Del Rio Country Club.
“I had to make some changes in my swing that have held me back,” he said. “With Bill, my shot patterns have gotten tighter. I’m in a lot better place with my swing.”
Thornberry’s best ally, however, is his continued hunger for success.
“I’m excited about this year. I’ve got some things in order with my swing,” he said. “I feel I’ve got my foot in the door for the first time. It’s a matter of taking advantage of opportunities.”
• HOLES-IN-ONE – Ken Dieker, Modesto, 188-yard second at Del Rio CC (Oak), 4-iron. ... Tom Wright, Modesto, 158-yard seventh at Running Y Ranch, Klamath Falls, Ore., 9-iron. ... Larry Vickers, Ripon, 100-yard 13th at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 7-iron. ... Jim Hudson, Manteca, 140-yard 16th at Jack Tone, 6-iron. ... Dave Kessler, Ripon, 86-yard 17th at Jack Tone, pitching wedge.