A casual observer might think the life of a professional golfer is filled with glamour -- courtesy cars, gorgeous venues, five-star hotels, millionaires finishing 10th, TV interviews, appearance fees and Monday exhibitions.
It is all of that -- for about the top 100 players in the world.
But for the many hundreds waiting in line, the wanna-bes scratching to reach the elite class, the glamour wears off quickly.
Theirs is a world of sweat, self-doubt and stress, long periods of time -- sometimes years -- where even modest progress seems to be a bridge too far.
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Golfers bleed -- internally.
We caught up with Ceres' Ryan Thornberry, one of those players who's chasing his golf ball with big ideas in mind, Monday night. He was connecting in San Francisco for a flight home after a daylong trip from England, and you could hear the fatigue in his voice.
Thornberry, 26, tried to qualify for the 2011 European Tour last week at a course outside Manchester. He was promised nothing and, eventually, received nothing for his labor. After four rounds, he missed a Euro Tour card by five strokes.
"I basically looked at it as another opportunity to get to a better place next year," he said.
Thornberry's passion has not waned. The former Cal State Stanislaus star has spent four years on the Canadian Tour, one of the game's many proving grounds.
This year alone, he's teed it up in events on the Canadian, E (in the Carolinas) and Challenge (the European satellite circuit) tours.
At one point this summer after playing seven straight weeks, he realized he was just running in place. He walked away from golf for two weeks.
"I didn't even think about golf," Thornberry said. "I just needed a little recovery time. I played more golf this year than any time in the past Sometimes I overwork myself."
Players at his level painfully understand the narrow margin between cashed checks and missed cuts.
They constantly seek the edge -- the tinkering with equipment, the extra hours on the practice range, the slightest grip change -- that will hurdle them over the pack.
Maybe Thornberry found his edge via a little downtime, because his game suddenly upticked.
He contended in three straight CanTour events and placed 13th, fifth and 10th (the finale at the CanTour Championship), arguably his best-ever run up north.
Then, earlier this month at the 83rd Northern California Open, Thornberry won with rounds of 69, 67 and 71 at the John Daly- designed Sevillano Links in Corning.
The NorCal Open, largely for club pros, has been won by first-class talent such as Tony Lema, Roger Maltbie, George Archer and Peter Jacobsen. Closer to home, the tournament has been won three times by Beyer High graduate Matt Bettencourt and twice by Turlock product Joey Rassett.
For Thornberry, the win was worth more than the $4,000 first prize.
"It was more of a confidence boost than anything," he said. "Any time you win, it's a good sing that you're doing things the right way."
Thornberry liked how he lost the lead early in the final round but responded with birdies and clutch play. He topped runners-up Robert Galletti of Clayton and Scott de Borba of Rancho Murieta by three strokes. Del Rio Country Club's Mitch Lowe finished 14th, ex-Stanislaus standout Andy Moren was 22nd and Ripon's Don Winter was 27th.
Next month, Thornberry again hopes to upgrade his career at the first stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. It will be his fourth try, and he's twice reached the second stage of the three-tiered event. If he can advance to the final, he'll probably earn status either on the PGA or Nationwide tours.
"I'm definitely ready. I'm still in a learning process," he said. "I think in golf you peak at around 30, so I'm beating that number by four years. I'm ready to take that next step."
HOLES-IN-ONE -- Mike Taylor, Modesto, 100-yard sixth at Oakdale CC, sand wedge. ... Steve Hasch, Modesto, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 9-iron. ... Aaron Heether, Ripon, 102-yard sixth at Jack Tone, sand wedge. ... Gary Burch, Modesto, 123-yard third at Jack Tone, 8-iron. ... Don Oehrlein, Oakdale, 196-yard ninth at Oakdale, 5-iron. ... Patty Maloy, Oakdale, 149-yard 12th at Oakdale, driver. ... Charlie Taglianetti, Oakdale, 92-yard sixth at Oakdale, 6-iron.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.