September 15, 2000
What makes some people so single-minded in pursuit of their dreams?
What causes such dedication to a single goal that other parts of their lives seem out of balance?
Is total self-centeredness necessary for success in professional golf?
Michael D’Antonio does great work exploring answers to these questions in Tin Cup Dreams: A Long Shot Makes It on the PGA Tour (Hyperion, $23.95 SRP). D’Antonio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, wrote an absorbing biography of Esteban Toledo, a journeyman golfer now on the Tour.
Toledo is having a very good year this season, including a second-place finish by a single stroke in the B.C. Open, behind Brad Faxon.
In many respects Toledo presents a far more unique story than run of the mill PGA pros, who appear to waltz from junior golf through the NCAA Division I finals and onto the Tour.
Toledo endured the grinding poverty of Mexicali, Mexico, as the tenth child of a family that was already struggling mightily before his father’s untimely death. Picked on by other kids, he turned to boxing to escape the brutality of local bullies. Toledo’s skills developed to the point that he looked forward to a promising boxing career, only to be cut short by injury.
Scraping together a set of mismatched clubs, Toledo taught himself golf while caddying for the rich members of the nearby Mexicali Country Club. Once again, his dedication to learning a new sport showed promise. This time, however, things took a turn for the better. Miraculously, Toledo found himself transplanted to California, supported by a millionaire’s personal idea of charity.
Toledo polished his golf and his English, and then tried his luck on the Asian and Nike Tours. After several attempts at Q School, Toledo succeeded in obtaining his PGA Tour card in the 1997 qualifier at Grenelefe Resort in Haines City, Florida.
At the tournament Toledo also crossed paths with D’Antonio, who came to the event searching for a good story about a golfer good enough to play and stay on the PGA Tour, but not in its higher echelons. D’Antonio lucked out with his initial decision to follow Toledo through his first round of the 1997 Q School. The two men hit it off, and D’Antonio quickly determined this was a personal story well worth pursuing.
He was right. It’s a great read, and not just because of Toledo’s own saga.
D’Antonio brings his readers into the real world of professional golf. He successfully describes the different tiers of the sport, similar to class differences in real life. For every touring pro staying at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, there are several others at a nearby Motel 6. For the few golfers with giant endorsement contracts, there are many others who scrape together a collection of pro-am events and incentive contracts from golf suppliers to make enough to cover the significant expenses of staying on the tour.
Along with the several dozen golfers that win a Tour event in a given year, there are at least as many struggling to win enough money to keep their card for the next year.
Toledo was in each of the latter categories in 1998. D’Antonio shows how the ex-boxer struggles with his own personality and desires to perform well enough to keep from returning to Q school.
Toledo is no saint. At several points in the book there are examples of self-absorption, excessive pride, and single-mindedness. The strains on a normal home life caused by the nature of the professional golf tour are often evident.
On the other hand, his caddie and others eventually are able to convince Toledo that if he remembers to enjoy himself and entertain others, he plays better than when he is a total grinder. By the end of the book there are hopeful signs for Toledo’s development into a better golfer and a better person.
At times it seems that most golf fans devote their attention to the top names in professional golf. D’Antonio shows that the stories of journeymen pros can be just as interesting.