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My Golf Story // Evan Harmeling

According to my mom, I started playing golf when I was 2 years old after my dad cut down an old driver, and I was instantly hooked.  I started playing in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, cutting my teeth at Barton GC, and then Orleans CC once I got more serious.  My sister recently found an old book from kindergarten, one of those “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.  I wrote from the start that I wanted to be a pro golfer. Its crazy to think I’ve been doing that for 10 years now, and I’m humbled by how fortunate I am to do what I love. 

Coming out of college, I first thought about going the finance route... interviewing with some of the big banks on Wall Street. However, 2011-2012 wasn't exactly the primo time to enter that world, and most of those banks weren’t too crazy about a 2.7 GPA.  Mostly though, I was disillusioned to that world after getting a glimpse of it during those interviews.  It seemed pretentious, and political.  I also realized that I myself was probably a little pretentious, and I studied politics, but that wasn’t who I wanted to be.  I made my decision and said screw it, I’m going to give this golf racket a shot.  The golf world is a true meritocracy, or close to it.  You are what you shoot, and that’s it. I love that!  So I drove down to Greensboro, NC before graduation and made my debut in the Rex Hospital Monday qualifier on the Korn Ferry Tour.  I shot 69, 3 under, and missed the playoff by 2. I was instantly in love with the scene, with life on the road.  It’s exciting to just pack up and have the hope of making it big.  Golf is great like that.. theoretically you can map out a plan where in one or two weeks you are on the PGA Tour and making millions.  I knew I had the game to compete for that too, so the carrot was dangling dangerously close.  It sucked me right in. 

That first year was a lot of fun, the summer of 2012, playing on the EGolf Tour in the Carolinas, and then getting an apartment in Orlando that winter with two of my best friends from Mass.  My dad nicknamed our apartment the swamp, partially because there was a swamp out back, but also because of the state of the apartment itself.  A lot of video games, festivities, and golf.  I’m not saying we were the most responsible, or went through much personal transformation, but we had an awesome time.  I played some great golf on the Hooters winter series that fall as well.  I attributed my improved play to more practice, a comfort level putting on Bermuda greens, and our marathon mini golf sessions almost every night.  This mini golf joint, which I only remember as “Tha Gahdens,” (gardens in a boston accent) was the best.  They had 36 holes and the putting surface was the purest I’d ever seen in mini golf.  The place was always empty too, so we had free reign.  We’d get at least 72 holes in nightly, 108 was common as well.  We’d gamble fairly heavily, $3 aces and $1 skins with carry-overs.  Doesn’t sound like much, but when you know those holes like the back of your hand, and when you’re playing 100+ holes/night.. things can add up quickly.  The best was when we had friends in town, we’d bring them out there and be like what do you think? $4 aces tonight? They’d be like, “sure! lets make it $5!” Pretty soon Mike, Chris, and I would be in the 18-20 aces range, knowing where on each brick you needed to bank it off to get an ace, and our friends would have 2 or 3 with a completely different tone about things.  I did feel this helped my game a lot though.  My pressure putting was the best it has ever been.  There’s something about having a hole worth $15 bucks plus another $3, if you make the ace, that really gets the juices flowing. Especially if it’s one of the holes where it really is a must-make, and you know you’re falling $6 behind if you miss it.  Bets were normally settled with a, “you get dinner” type deal.  Those were the days. 

 Back to the story though, that winter gave me a lot of confidence that I could play with the top mini tour players around. I also qualified for the Mackenzie Tour for the following summer which was the first of two years I played up in Canada.  My favorite place by far was Victoria.  Uplands Golf Club, where the event was, is still the purest course I think I’ve ever played.  That greenskeeper is a magician.  I also got a chance to play Victoria Golf Club, which was right on the ocean.  It is one of those courses where you step out of your car and your heart rate gets jacked up.  The piece of land was that cool, and the feel at that place is something I’ll never forget.  After two seasons on the Mackenzie Tour, where I was in or near the lead a few times and showing some great promise, but not exactly finishing the deal, I decided to change course and play the Latin American Tour. 

I qualified for the tour in Sebring, FL with my coach, Adam Schriber, on the bag.  Pretty quickly I fell in love with the tour, and with Latin America.  The Latin tour is whatever you want to make it.  You can go from the hotel to the course, fight off a few stomach bugs, and grind out the golf life.. as many guys do.  I chose a different route.. to immerse myself in the culture, and it was incredibly fun.  The variety of places and people that I met was astounding.  Argentina was significantly different than Guatemala, Brazil different than Mexico.. and what was striking was people’s kindness, and the richness of their culture.  I believe that people down there, despite generally having less material wealth, were happier, and had a love for life that wasn’t as common in the states.  I'll elaborate more on my experiences in Latin America in coming posts, but long story-short, I ended up playing the better part of 5 years on that Tour, met and married a Brazilian woman, and finished 4th on the 2019 money list to earn my Korn Ferry Tour card.

2020 was my first year with real status on the Korn Ferry Tour.  I had made it to final stage of q-school back in 2016, but my status wasn’t great, and I got hurt the following spring which truncated my 2017 season.  Despite Monday qualifying 3 times previously into Korn Ferry events, 2020 was my first real shot.  It is nerve racking to start a year with conditional status on the KFT.  4th place on the Latino tour only guarantees you two or three starts in most years, the events in Panama and Colombia and Mexico (in 2020).  I ended up getting into the first event of the season in Bahamas last minute, but missed the cut.  That left me with those three events, and a lot of pressure to make a cut, or I'd be in a tough position in terms of status for the remainder of the year. 

I was really proud of how I responded in Panama, and was in line for a reasonable finish in the top 25-30 before a late double on Sunday.   Regardless, I made the cut and got some points next to my name, and then followed it up with another solid made cut in Mexico.  That enabled me to play the majority of the remaining schedule. 

After Mexico, COVID hit, and that period was great for my game.  I moved to Jax Beach and got to start playing with some incredible golfers at TPC Sawgrass.  I took a much more disciplined approach to my practice, and extracted as much info as I could from guys like Vijay, Furyk, Horschel and Knox.  These guys are awesome.  I was lucky to play with them, seeing firsthand that I have every bit as much game as they do, but needing to learn from their experience and acumen. 

Once things got going again and I started getting into events, I missed a bunch of cuts in a row.  I squeaked out a cut in Springfield, MO, but when I missed the cut in Omaha the following week, I hit a new low in terms of enjoyment.  I was trying to be super serious, check all the boxes with my practice and stay disciplined.  That wasn’t the formula for me.  I needed to enjoy myself.  I booked a flight to San Francisco instead of Oregon.  I jumped on a plane without thinking things through, and when I landed, immediately called the pro shop at Pasatiempo Golf Club.  I kept thinking about Happy Gilmore.. “go to your happy place.”  Pasatiempo is my happy place.  I played there twice in college and I love it more and more every time I go.  An Alister Mackenzie design, where he lived late in his life, it’s one of those courses where you step up on almost every hole, especially on the back 9, and really appreciate the architecture of the hole. 

After I played there, I went down to Monterey to drive around Pebble and Cypress Point for a little more inspiration.  That area is incredible, and I was fired up again. I convinced a buddy in the area to come caddy for me and we road tripped to Portland, OR for the tourney at Pumpkin Ridge.  We got on the property, went to the range and after the 3rd ball I said, “Nope, this (practice) isn’t happening this week.” I was grinding too hard and I could feel that it was time to let go.  I barely stepped foot on the range the rest of the week.  I finished t-14 and made an awesome eagle on the par 5 18th on Sunday to cap it off in style.  That was huge for my confidence. 

After a few more solid tournaments in the weeks following, I felt I was establishing myself as a real player on the tour, not just someone showing up and praying to make a cut to eek out a little more status.  And then things clicked in Savannah.  I holed out twice from the fairway, on Thursday and Friday, and it felt like MY week from the start.  I won in a playoff, 12 days before my daughter was born! I was on call the whole tournament, thinking she might come at any time. 

It's so much fun to be in contention in a golf tournament and feel the heat.  And then to respond by hitting not just good shots, but great shots under that pressure, it's incredibly satisfying.  The other key was having the life perspective of my daughter’s birth upcoming.  How could I feel nervous about hitting a golf shot.. I’d done this millions of times, it's not that hard, and it's really not that important.  Giving birth is clearly a differently story, and being a father.  There was a reality check for me that undoubtedly helped give me calm in those big moments to execute on the course.

And here we are. 2021 was the second half of the COVID mega-season, and I didn’t do enough to earn my card, though I had glimpses of it during the playoffs last fall.  Knee surgery in March of this year cut my season in half and despite coming back for the final 4 events and playing some solid golf, I did not make the playoffs. 

I’ll be rearing to go in 2023, with a newfound love for the game after my time off post-knee surgery.  Working in the real world quickly made me re-appreciate how great it is to play golf, and also how successful I can be when I keep things simple on the course.  Competing as an athlete on every shot. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the game and the results.  In true LFG style, its not about the game, it’s about my personal growth and enjoying the journey.  For the player, not the game.

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