Sheehan: ?I have to play well?

The race for theWhite House may be over, but those vying for a coveted PGA Tour cardstill have 72 holes before the results are in. Check eachday this week to follow the winners and losers at the season-endingChildren’s Miracle Network Classic. will be paying closeattention to these eight players specifically.

• Part I: Embracing perspective, not pressure
• Part II: ‘I have to play well’
• Parts III through VI: Thursday-Sunday
• Decision ’08: Players to watch

Golfweek Editor

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Patrick Sheehan would like to treat this week just as he has the other 34 weeks he has spent on the road playing the PGA Tour this season. There’s a golf tournament to be played, a purse of $4.6 million has been put up, and somebody on Sunday will be heading home with a winner’s check for $828,000.

The reality, however, is that this week is different than the rest. Though he’s played quite consistently in his 2008 campaign, Sheehan sits outside the Tour’s infamous 125 bubble, $45,480 behind Jeff Overton. Over the next four days, a lot hangs in the balance. Will Sheehan play well enough to jump inside the magic number? Or will he be resigned to another turn at Q-School, and face a possible return to golf’s minor leagues, the Nationwide Tour?

Why is this week different than the others? Because with the sands rapidly tumbling out of the PGA Tour’s 2008 hourglass, there is no next week.

“I have to play well,” says Sheehan, whose journey at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic begins at 7:05 a.m. Thursday on Walt Disney World’s Palm Course. “That doesn’t put any added pressure on me. I’m either going to do it or I’m not.”

Sheehan, 39, should be the poster boy depicting the degree of difficulty that exists in trying to keep one’s job on the PGA Tour. Disney marks his 35th start; should he make the cut, it would mark the 27th time he has qualified to play on the weekend.

But one poor round a tournament, it seems, has kept him from finishing any higher than sixth, which he has done twice. And even three six-figure paydays have not delivered him to the threshold of having enough to finish in the top 125, a number that likely will move past $860,000 by week’s end.

Though Sheehan has banked more than $90,000 during the Fall Series, he has dropped on the money list. He began last week’s Ginn sur Mer right at No. 125; when he missed the cut, he tumbled four spots. It hasn’t helped those hovering near the edge that five of six Fall Series winners have jetted into the top 125 with victories. The sixth, Zach Johnson (Valero Texas Open), was No. 125 when he won.

“It goes to show you how deep these fields are,” J.J. Henry said. “Honestly, on any given week somebody can step up and win.”

Henry was outside the top 125 until the past two weeks but turned his fortunes with a tie for fourth in Arizona and tie for 12th last week and now is safe at No. 109. Wednesday, instead of dealing with the anxiety of keeping a card, he was relaxed, enjoying his time at Disney with his family. He’d never had to fight so hard for his card, and hopes there was a lesson learned.

“When you play 30 events out here, there are times when you kind of go through the motions,” Henry said. “You always have next week, and sooner or later, you think, ‘I’ll knock off a couple of top 5s and make my money and I’ll be good.’ All of a sudden it’s August, and when is next week going to happen? You’d better make it happen, or be prepared to make some tee times in early December (Q-School). It was a wake-up call. It shows you what you’re made of.”

Complicating matters for bubble types is the fact a player must finish pretty high this time of year to make any kind of significant move. Jesper Parnevik tied for 12th at last week’s Ginn, pocketed $87,400, and only advanced two spots on the money list, to 142nd.

“There are so many variables to it,” Sheehan says of the chase, “that it would really drive you nuts if you thought about it too much.”

Sheehan realizes in the midst of today’s dire economic climate, not too many people will have much sympathy for a golf pro who will bank more than $800,000 in the process of possibly “losing his job.” Nonetheless, the nature of his work and the importance of finishing in the top 125 to stay at golf’s top level make him view the money aspect of his vocation a little differently than, say, Joe the Plumber.

“The weird thing is,” he said, “if you make a cut and you don’t have a great weekend, and you make a $10,000 check, that’s a lot of money. But all I see, and all the other players out here see, is: ‘10 grand – I’m going to drop 15 spots on the money list.’

“As much money as that is, it’s depressing to know you’ve made a nice check but it’s not good enough. So your mind isn’t so much on how much money you’ve made; it’s on how much money you haven’t made.”

Fortunately, Sheehan brings good perspective to his situation. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was trying to scrape together a living playing the mini-tours around Orlando, playing anywhere and everywhere for purses that barely would cover groceries. His wife’s job as a first-grade teacher helped the family cover payments for an apartment and two cars.

“I remember winning the Florida Open Match Play in 1996 or ’97 – they didn’t even have the event the year after I won it – and I won $4,500,” Sheehan said. “I was down to nothing, and had nothing left to play with, and we (he and wife Pamela) thought that was a ton of money. It was a ton of money.”

“Whatever happens this week, not much is going to change for me as far as golf. I’ll still be playing all the time. With what’s going on in this country, it’s not the most horrible thing to lose your Tour card, given the circumstances some people are going through. Hey, this isn’t the real world – this is ‘WallyWorld.’ This isn’t real life out here. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a tough spot, and I have to play good. That’s it.”

• • •

Jeff Babineau is Golfweek’s editor. To reach him e-mail [email protected]

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