Luke Guthrie holds the trophy of his first Web.com tour victory in Boise this September.
by Mike Koon, Illinois Sports Information
It's been a storybook year for golfer Luke Guthrie. The Quincy, Ill., native won his second-straight Big Ten title individually and led Illinois to its fourth-straight conference crown as a team in late April. He then helped the Illini to their fifth-straight appearance at the NCAA Championships. That was only the beginning, however. He received a sponsorship exemption for the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic in July, finishing fifth, and began an unbelievable run in the second half of the Web.com tour season. The result was two tour wins and a second-place finish on the Web.com money list to earn his PGA Tour card for 2013.
Before the run began, he promised his parents he would come back in the fall to finish his business degree. While it has been a whirlwind fall, one he couldn't have imagined, Guthrie has held true to his promise and has circled Dec. 19 on his calendar: the date of his last final exam. But balancing schoolwork with golf is nothing new for Guthrie, a three-time Academic All-Big Ten performer, however.
"The weeks were pretty long with the travel and the practice rounds and competing," Guthrie said. "I was able to get through it pretty good and now I'm back here finishing up and getting my degree from a great institution."
You'll forgive Guthrie for grinning from ear to ear in reflecting back on the summer and fall of 2012. He made three cuts in four PGA events in which he had been granted an exemption, banking $284,672. Despite playing in 14 fewer events than Web.com tour money winner Casey Wittenberg, Guthrie finished just $23,000 behind Wittenberg with $410,593 in earnings for his 10 events. In those 10 tournaments, Guthrie made the cut in eight of them, posting seven top-10s and back-to-back wins at the Albertsons Boise Open Presented by Kraft and the WNB Golf Classic in Midland, Texas.
"It was an awesome experience," Guthrie said of his first victory in Boise. "I was in the mix quite a few times earlier in the year and couldn't close the deal. At the time when I was on the 18th green and tapped in, it felt just like a win. Then later that night, it started hitting me that this basically secured my PGA Tour card. It was a crazy feeling. That's the first time that I thought, 'Hey, I'm really going to be on the PGA Tour next year.' To go to Midland the next week and continue my good play was nice."
Guthrie finished ninth at the Tour Championship the last week of October and was one of the fortunate 25 men who were presented with the coveted tour card there. He admits that several times on the trip home, he took the card of out of his wallet just to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
The run that Guthrie made is far from the norm. Much like baseball players coming up through the minors, it can be a grind for golfers to reach the PGA Tour. Of the top 25 on the Web.com money list, 15 were in their 30s with just six players 25 years or younger. Guthrie is the youngest at just 22. Making the jump will get even tougher with the restructuring of Q school starting next season. That reality isn't lost on the humble Guthrie.
"People were joking with me out there on tour that I don't even know any hardships and how hard this game is," he said. "Although I'm not that old, I've played this game long enough to know that when you're playing well, you have to take advantage of it and hopefully make those putts and win those tournaments. Golf's a fleeting game in that aspect. Sometimes you think you own it and you can never lose that swing, and other times that hole looks really small. You want to just keep playing and not think about it. You just have some fun and don't get in your own way. I also tried to learn from past experiences here at Illinois."
Guthrie will be one of four former Illini on tour next season, joining Steve Stricker, D.A. Points and Joe Affrunti, who missed 2012 with a shoulder injury and received a medical extension for '13. Guthrie knows it's no coincidence that the U of I will be well-represented and expects even more players to join the ranks in the coming years.
"Coming to a place like Illinois, you're playing in the top tournaments at top venues every year," he said. "I continued to get better every year while I was here. That's showing exactly what this program's about. With Mike Small and my brother (assistant coach Zach Guthrie) and their help, the structure around here is awesome. It's a special place."
The first tour of duty is a pretty good gig for Guthrie, the Sony Open in Honolulu on Jan. 7-13.
On what his 2013 schedule could look like, Guthrie said "I should be able to play the whole west-coast swing. The first goal would be to get in that World Golf Championships-Match Play event. That's going to require some pretty good golf to get into that. From there, as long as I play well, I should be able to guarantee myself a full schedule."
For now, though, in between catching up with his teammates and getting in a few swings at the Demirjian Golf Practice Facility, Guthrie is trying to blend in like a regular student and achieve his goal of being an Illinois graduate.