In the past, playing college golf has always been considered a tried and tested way for most people to embark on their journey to become a golf professional, and even today it is considered a good way to gain a head start. But the trend has certainly declined over the years as more and more golfers started skipping playing golf in high school and instead focused on other ways of achieving their goal.
In college, many things loom in uncertainty as students strive to strike a balance between sports and academics. Some students prioritize the sport of golf over academics, while others prioritize academics first. In this post, we will look at examples of professional golfers who didn’t play college golf but pursued their dreams and ultimately achieved their goal of becoming professional.
1. Y. E. Yang
Y.E. Yang, a South Korean pro, debuted on the PGA tour in 2008. He was 36 when he made his debut. After one year in his PGA debut, Yang won his first PGA major championship. Tiger Woods was runner-up in the championship. This win turned out to be a career highlight for Yang. He has several victories on the Japan Golf Tour to his name as well. His win in the 2009 championship also elevated him to the list of Asian golfers who achieved this feat.
An aspiring bodybuilder who turned pro golfer.
Yang did not play golf until he was 19. At 19, he got a job opportunity at a golf recreational and practice center. Yang was also interested in fitness and bodybuilding. However, due to an injury, he couldn’t continue. While at the golf training center, he developed a keen interest in the sport. He started practicing on his own during his spare time. Years of dedicated practice later, he eventually started to provide coaching to golfers at the golf center.
“It was a player with 70 wins versus a player with one win. At first, I didn’t realise I had hope to win a major but that dream came true and I am grateful. Wherever I go now, I have the pride that I am a major champion.” – Yang in an interview with scmp.com
2. Larry Nelson
Nelson, a pro golfer who served in the army.
American pro golfer Larry Nelson didn’t start playing golf until the age of 21. In his early 20s, he also spent substantial time in the US Army as well. He found an interest in golf during his stay in the army, thanks to his fellow soldiers. After his service in the army, he began playing golf at the amateur level.
“I always say, I didn’t pick golf, it picked me.” – Larry Nelson
In 1973, at the age of 27, Nelson achieved his dream of playing on the PGA Tour by qualifying through a qualifying school. Nelson has ten PGA Tour wins to his name. He also won several Japanese golf tours in his professional career. He has always been athletic throughout his school years. He played baseball and basketball during his college years.
3. Jay Williamson
For Williamson, golf was always the third choice.
Though Williamson was part of the college’s division 3 basketball and hockey teams during his tenure, he never played golf competitively. During that time, golf was a fun activity for him, and he never took it seriously. He turned professional as a golfer in 1990 at the age of 23. Williamson had devoted countless hours to practicing golf before that. To fund his practice, he did multiple low-paying jobs so that he could practice golf on weekends. Throughout his career he toured for more than 15 years. Williamson never took formal training during his initial days of practicing the sport.
“When I was at Trinity College, majoring in political science, I played soccer and baseball. Then the day came when I said to myself, ‘How am I going to make a living?’ For me, the answer was golf. And here I am. I had a dream and I’ve lived that dream.” – Williamson on fulfilling his dream of being a pro golfer (source)
4. Alex Beach
“When I get inside the ropes, that’s my boxing ring. I love being in there, I love putting in the work, I love getting better, I love competing.” – Beach said in an interview with nypost.com
A self taught golfer.
Beach is a self-taught golfer who, although he never played golf during his college days and got into the golf scene later than most others, made a great turnaround. Within a few years of his athletic journey, he became a coaching assistant at Westchester Country Club. Learning the sport without any assistance and achieving the highest level is a commendable achievement that Beach accomplished, and it serves as a valuable lesson for all budding golfers.
While working at recreational sports in New Jersey, Beach had the opportunity to interact with pro golfers. Their valuable insights significantly improved his game.
Alex Beach has a positive outlook on the sport. He believes that if we make consistent efforts, and keep pushing ourselves, things will work out the way we want them to.
5. Sean O’Hair
American golfer O’Hair turned professional in 1999 and had to make five attempts to qualify for the PGA Tour through the qualifying school. After 5 years of immense effort, O’Hair made it to the PGA, having successfully navigated all the qualification stages. In 2005, O’Hair won his first PGA Tour championship, which gave a new direction to his professional career.
O’Hair was very keen on making a career in golf. Therefore, instead of continuing his senior years in high school, he decided to turn pro at the age of 17. O’Hair also moved from his native place, Arizona, to Florida to pursue his choice of career. Becoming a pro even before finishing the high school years is something that not many achieve, but O’Hair was certainly determined to make it happen.
6. Kevin Na
Kevin Na’s case is much different from the pros we discussed so far in this post. Na, after completing his junior years, left high school at the age of 17 to focus on his dream of becoming a pro golfer. He didn’t attend senior high school in order to master this tough sport of golf.
Kevin Na is the 8th youngest golfer to become a pro.
Kevin Na was born in South Korea, but during his childhood, his family moved to the USA permanently. Na started playing golf at the junior level and soon he became one of the best golfers in America at that level. At 16, he was the number one golfer in amateur tournaments. In 2004, Na became the 8th youngest player to hold a PGA Tour card, having earned it through qualifying school.
7. Scott Parel
During his college days, studies came first for Parel.
Parel became a golf pro at the age of 31. While pursuing his computer science degree, he focused solely on his studies and gave no thought to playing golf. Though starting late, Parel made significant progress in the pro golfing world in a short time. To date, he has four PGA Tour championships to his name, two of which came in 2018.
After his senior years in college, Parel took a job and worked as a computer programmer for the next ten years. After turning pro at 31, it took him two years to participate in the Korn Ferry Tour, held in Florida.
“It doesn’t seem real sometimes when I look at guys that I’m playing with and how I’m doing some weeks. I’ve definitely gotten better as a golfer as I’ve gotten older.” – Scott Parel in an interview with pgatour.com
Making a career transition was a difficult decision for Parel, as he had a young family of two children and a wife to support. Leaving a decade-long career to pursue a professional career in sports is never an easy decision to make. At that time, his wife advised him to follow his passion and pursue his dream of becoming a pro. It turned out to be a wise decision, and Parel’s achievements in the sport are testament to that.
8. Nicholas Lindheim
Lindheim, a California resident, has achieved much of his success on the Korn Ferry Tour throughout his career. He began his professional career in 2005 and has also won the Latinoamerica PGA Tour twice.
Lindheim used to be a cart boy before he went pro.
Lindheim didn’t give golf a chance until he was 18, so he never attempted to play it during his college days. It was around that period that he started working as a cart boy in a golf club. There he developed an interest in the sport and thought of it as something he would love to pursue at a higher level. He started training for golf from that time on.
Within the next three years, he became a pro at the age of 21. He then played numerous mini-tours on the PGA Tour. He achieved his first major victory in 2014 on the Latinoamerica Tour. Like Alex Beach, Lindheim never received any formal training in the sport.
“You can do it. Don’t ever think that you can’t. I never knew I would get to this point, but I always believed that I could. Just believe in yourself, and you never know what can happen.” – Nicholas Lindheim
9. Tyler Collet
Collet is from Vero Beach, a city in Florida, which is known for its picturesque beaches and numerous volleyball courts. While he hails from a city of beaches, Collet finds the greatest pleasure not on the sand, but on the green expanse of golf courses. His choice of sport, at least, suggests the same.
Collet spent 6 years working at a golf club.
Like the theme of this post, Collet didn’t play golf during his high school days, nor did he compete in many mini-tours, unlike most golfers. Instead, he spent six years at a golf club in Vero Beach as an assistant pro. During that period, he grabbed every opportunity to play professional golf. His consistent efforts eventually paid off as he managed to qualify for PGA championships not once but twice. Collet has had an immense passion for the sport since a very young age, having been exposed to it by his father and elder brother. He turned pro in 2017 at the age of 22.
10. Min Woo Lee
The Lee family shares a common passion for golf.
Lee is an Australian professional golfer who turned pro in 2019 at the age of 21. He comes from a family of golfers. His sister, father, and mother have also played golf at various levels and points in their lives. Lee’s sister is in fact a major champion on the LPGA. The only difference between Lee and the rest of his family members is that they all played golf during their high school days, but he did not.
Lee, within very few years of his professional debut, made his mark on the pro golfing circuit. He also boasted a tremendous record at the amateur level. He won the Australian PGA Tour in his second year as a professional golfer, and he repeated the feat three years later in 2023. Growing up in a family with vast collective experience in this sport helped Lee improve his game significantly as he always had someone to look up to and learn from.
Today, the number of golfers who skip college golf or those who didn’t get the opportunity is a significant number. Above were a few examples of people who succeeded despite not starting their earliest. Many golfers are in the same situation that these pro golfers were in during their own development. Examples of such pros surely provide inspiration and confidence for many.