Story by Craig Dolch
The life of a professional golfer is not an easy one. And we’re not talking about the guys who play on the PGA Tour every week. For every player who earns six-figure paydays, flies on private jets and is instantly recognized when they walk into a room, there are hundreds if not thousands who toil away at the sport in anonymity. All they have is a dream and a work ethic that won’t let them stop, no matter how high the odds or how low the bank account. This is what they have chosen to do in life, and they’re going to do it as long as they can.
And once in a while, the sport rewards this passion, this grit, this determination.
And so it was for Martin County resident Brant Peaper on Sunday night. He was trying to qualify for this week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree, a new stop on the PGA Tour in South Carolina, when he realized he was in a playoff for the final spot. With seven other guys. “You try not to think about the odds,” Peaper said. “I figure I had already done the hard part. Just go out and try to make an eagle or a birdie.” Peaper made two birdies, the first eliminating six others and the last one earning him that precious first spot in a PGA Tour event. At 30 years old. Imagine that.
“It’s all been kind of a blur,” Peaper said. “You work your butt off for so many years and you have so many heartbreaking moments, to finally get in a Tour event is hard to describe.”
Peaper always seemed destined to become a pro golfer. His father, Brian, has been the longtime director of golf at Lost Tree Club in North Palm Beach (where Jack Nicklaus has lived for more than 50 years). Brant started playing the game when he was 9 and eventually concentrated on the sport even though he was an excellent all-around athlete. Brian taught his son during the early years, but knew it would be best if he could listen to other instructors as well. One can only imagine the emotion father-son shared Sunday night when they spoke after the playoff.
“I’m just happy for him because of all the near-misses he’s had,” Brian said Tuesday as he and wife Vicki drove to South Carolina to watch their son play this weekend. “Hopefully, it’s a start and he’ll become more consistent. I think he’ll feel like he fits in this week.”
Brant has had some success on the Minor League Golf Tour and has played in three Korn Ferry Tour events. But the pandemic during the last year-plus limited playing opportunities for golfers like him who don’t have status. So he tries to Monday-qualify for whatever event he can, golf’s version of trying to hit the lottery. Despite celebrating a milestone birthday with limited success (so far), Peaper said he never considered giving up on playing professionally.
“The thought may have crossed my mind, but I’ve never said it out loud,” Peaper said. “Every year I feel like I’ve gotten better. I feel like it would be stupid to give up at this point.”
The thing about golf is the numbers rarely lie. At some point, you either make it or you don’t, though it happens at a different time for everyone.
“There’s not an infinite timeline,” Brian Peaper said. “Like a lot of kids, he gets it. I like the fact he didn’t have a backup plan, because I felt like that would become his plan.”
Instead, the plan this week is to watch Brian have his name called on the first tee of a PGA Tour event and see how he performs alongside the world’s best players. Brant already passed another important hurdle Monday when, after a 2 ½-hour wait in a parking lot, he didn’t test positive for COVID. Now he’s playing with house money.
“I have no expectations,” he said. “I want to soak it all in. Registering. Playing certain shots. Enjoying the moment.”
Life throws us all curveballs. It’s nice to hammer one of those out of the park.
Chip shots: It was a rough day for Treasure Coast golfers at Monday’s 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier at the Bear’s Club in Jupiter. Stuart resident Garrett Barber (72-77) was in contention for one of the six spots until a back-nine 41 dropped him to 20th place. Amateur Joe Latowski of Port St. Lucie was 45th after a pair of 77s. PGA Professionals Tyler Collet (82-78) of Vero Beach and Patrick Rada (80-76) of McArthur Club in Hobe Sound, who both qualified for last month’s PGA Championship, also failed to advance.
Craig Dolch is a TCPalm.com correspondent with more than 30 years of golf writing experience.