Golf bum swings for pro status
Ex-PSU standout Brian Hughes hopes recent play holds up
Brian Hughes, the self-professed golf bum, has spent all spring and summer making bums out of the competition with an impressive collection of victories.
In the fall, he hopes to have a new label: PGA Tour pro.
The 26-year-old Hughes will try his luck in the PGA Tour's qualifying school, the grueling, three-stage event in which golfers have to play 14 rounds to earn their ticket to possible riches.
If he gets by the first two, highly competitive stages, he will play in the six-round finals Dec. 3-8 at Winter Garden, Fla., for a chance to gain his PGA Tour card.
'It's hard to get on the Tour, and it's harder to stay out there,' laments Hughes, a native of Centralia, Wash., who attended Portland State.
At least Hughes, who will play in the OGA Public Links Championship this weekend at Rose City Golf Course, has momentum on his side. His year has been sensational.
It began when he and partner Jay Poletiek, a Benson High grad, repeated as champions of the 'International Doubles' event in Lima, Peru. Combined scores determined the winner. Hughes shot 4-under par, and Poletiek was even.
'Last year we were 7-over,' Hughes says. 'The course was the same. Just better players.'
Next, he tore through the month of June, starting with his near-perfect domination of the Royal Oaks Invitational in Vancouver, Wash. He was 9-under for three rounds on the par-72 course, carding only one bogey. He beat runner-up Chris Dukeminer by nine strokes.
'They said it was the strongest field they've had,' says Hughes, a 2-handicap.
He then beat Ryan Gilmour in the final to win the Oregon Amateur championship, held June 16-21 at the OGA Members Course in Woodburn.
And he followed that up with a one-stroke victory in the OGA Men's Mid-Amateur at Columbia Edgewater Country Club.
'I played steady for a lot of rounds in the Oregon Amateur,' he says. 'That was a hard one. Going in, I knew I had to be under par in every match I played.'
Hughes played for three years at Portland State and coached there for two years. He twice led the Vikings in scoring average and, as medalist in the conference tournament, he helped PSU win its first Big Sky title in any sport in 1998-99. He calls Eastmoreland Golf Course his home track.
He has been traveling the amateur circuit, twice playing in the U.S. Amateur. He works at Riverside Golf Club in Chehalis, Wash., and lives in Centralia-Chehalis or with friends in Portland.
'I pretty much live on the golf course,' Hughes says jokingly.
He credits his six months spent in Palm Springs, Calif., last winter for his improvement.
'I worked at PGA West (golf course) in the bag room and played a lot of golf,' he says. 'A lot of it is confidence, too. Once you start playing well, you gain confidence.'
Adds Poletiek: 'Better than playing in the mud around here. It made all the difference for him.'
Poletiek, 31, met Hughes in 2000, and the pair have played in several team events together, and against each other. The OGA has sent teams to the Peru tournament for several years; originally, Poletiek, a Portland representative for Ben Hogan and Top Flite, had another partner to go with him. The partner backed out, and Poletiek invited Hughes. Now they are the two-time champs.
Their strategy: Don't talk to each other. 'Maybe we're sort of alike. When we play, we never say, 'You've gotta hit the ball this way or the putt is going to break this way.' We just play. Kinda strange.'
At 5-9, Hughes calls himself an 'average' hitter off the tee, a player who hits fairways consistently and is improving with his putter. 'I like to lag them too much,' he says of his putts. 'I'm trying to get more aggressive.'
As far as talent, 'He's right up there with the top collegians in the Northwest, and, as far as amateurs, he's a cut above,' fellow amateur Jack Schneider says. 'He's a solid ball-striker. One of the best I've seen hit the ball. It's just a matter of whether he's going to take it to the next level.'
Hughes just wants an opportunity. He'll get it on the golf course in qualifying school, and he might initially qualify for the Nationwide Tour, a notch below the PGA Tour.
But opportunity also means potential sponsorship backing. Hughes' contemporary Ben Crane has parlayed his talent, work ethic and financial backing into big success on the PGA Tour. Crane has earned more than $1.2 million this year and scored his first victory in the BellSouth in Atlanta in early April.
'I'm trying to play in everything I can and get attention and gain sponsorship,' Hughes says. 'It takes a lot of money to travel and pay for expenses and tournaments and everything. I'm just waiting for that.
'I've been playing well. Hopefully, I can keep it going.'
'If he gets some people to put money behind him for more than a season, he'll be all right,' Poletiek says. 'And, if he doesn't get burned out.'