I had a chance to catch up with former PGA Tour player and current Nationwide Tour member, Chris Wilson yesterday as he prepares for the season-opening Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship which begins on Feb. 16 in Bogota, Colombia.
Wilson graduated from Northwestern in 2007 and turned pro shortly thereafter. He won the 2006 Big Ten Individual Championship and helped the Wildcats claim the team title the same year.
After playing in several developmental tours over the next two years, Wilson broke through at PGA Tour Qualifying School in 2009, finishing 12th in the final stage. The finish earned him a full exemption on the PGA Tour in 2010. Other players who graduated from Q-School in his class included Ricky Fowler and Cameron Tringale.
Wilson had a difficult time on the PGA Tour in 2010 and was not able to make enough money to secure his PGA Tour card for 2011. He spent 2011 playing on the NGA Tour (formerly known as the NGA Hooters Tour), where he made 13 of 14 cuts and had two runner-up finishes.
Wilson returned to Q-School in 2011 where he advanced to the final stage and finished 51st, which gives him full status on the Nationwide Tour in 2012.
While Wilson is a Northwestern alum, he is a die hard Ohio State fan having grown up in Dublin, Ohio. He currently resides in High Point, N.C., and hopes to be back on the PGA Tour in the near future.
Yesterday I caught up with Chris and chatted with him about his time on the PGA Tour, the Nationwide Tour and why he thinks Urban Meyer would be a good addition to his dream foursome.
What are you doing to prepare for the Nationwide tour season?
I have been practicing and playing every day. I started out right after New Years, because I was home for the holidays. My practice began with about a week’s work on the fundamentals since I took three weeks off. Then, I started to implement playing a little more. For the past week and a half I have been playing a lot more, about 80 percent playing to 20 percent practicing. That helps me get ready to play in tournaments.
I am also heading down to Tampa, Fla. to play in the Northwestern alumni match, and will also play a mini tour event to get some competition in before I leave for Bogota, Colombia on the 12th, where the first Nationwide Tour even is being played.
Tell me more about the Northwestern alumni match.
As many alumni as we can get come together to take on the current Northwestern golf team in a Ryder Cup style format. The alumni are usually dominant. I do know (world no. 1) Luke Donald will be playing in the match. It is a lot of fun.
Describe the pressure of Qualifying School?
I don’t think the English language has the right word to describe the pressure of Q-School. The more experience you have in general playing competitive golf, the better off you are. It is a battle of who can be the least uncomfortable. The guys that finish in the top 5 had the same butterflies as everyone, guaranteed. Having the experience I had two years ago on Tour and three years ago at Q-School gave me the confidence to help calm some of the nerves.
How do you feel about the proposed 2013 changes to Q-School and the Nationwide Tour rules and regulations?
I am personally against the change. I don’t think the system is broken. Take me as an example. In 2009, I get through with no status and then have — for lack of a better word — a terrible year. Maybe they want to protect against that, I don’t know.
The new system also gives the veterans out there a better chance of keeping their jobs. I think the game has evolved in the last few years with guys like Ricky (Fowler), Keegan (Bradley), Dustin (Johnson) and (Gary) Woodland, there comes a time when it is time to pass the torch. The only way to let them get to the Tour quicker is the old system. Having the year on the Nationwide Tour is helpful, but not everyone needs it. Look at Harris English, he won on the Nationwide Tour as an amateur and got his card through Q-School this year with no status; should he have to wait a year on the Nationwide Tour? I played with him for two rounds of Q-School and I promise you he won’t lose his card the rest of his life. The kids like Fowler and Woods should be given the opportunity to go straight to the Tour.
How does the NGA Tour (formerly the NGA Hooters Tour) prepare players for the Nationwide and PGA Tour?
It prepares you very well. It is hands down the best developmental tour in golf. In my opinion, the NGA Tour is as close to the Nationwide or PGA tour as you can find: You do have to travel some, the events are four rounds, there is a cut, events are played on one golf course and they have larger size fields like the PGA Tour. Plus, the players are very good and you have to shoot 15 or 20 under to have a chance to win. They also can guarantee a purse on a week to week basis, while some of the other developmental tours can’t do that. Just look at the players who have played on the NGA Tour and it speaks for itself. (List includes: Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Lucas Glover and Tom Lehman, among others)
What was the most important thing you learned in your first year on the PGA Tour?
There are a lot of things. I think I learned that I have the ability to play out there. I have to get more consistent, but I have proven to myself and everyone else by getting through Q-School with no status on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour that I am good enough to get there. If you are good enough to get out there, you are good enough to stay out there. Everyone on the mini tours has that belief: Am I good enough to have a career on the PGA Tour? There is always a lingering thought for players that haven’t had success about whether they can get there. I was able to cross that off my list while others have not.
After going through what I went through and getting beat up out on the PGA Tour and making very few cuts, I am still more experienced. Then I qualified for the US Open last summer at Congressional Country Club. You’d think I would be more nervous on the first tee there than any shot ever because it was my first major championship. But I was more comfortable over that first tee shot than any tee shot on the PGA Tour in 2010. It is a comfort level and experience thing.
What current or former Tour player do you consider as a career role model?
Tom Lehman. First off, he is known as a better person than he is a golfer. It is hands down more important to be a good person than the score you shoot. Then you look at his career and he has a major and five total Tour wins. His story says a lot as well. He was down to his last thousand bucks, entered a mini tour event and won, then had $20,000. He just kept building on that success and staying positive despite tough odds. And look at him now. Plus, he is a Midwestern guy.
What is your best advice for aspiring Tour players coming out of college?
Number one, make sure pro golf is really what you want to do. If you are really going to try and play professionally, you cant do it half-hearted. It is too expensive and there are too many players that put in 110 percent. If you aren’t all in then don’t even try. Second, continue to always remain focused on the process of getting better rather than focusing on finishes. Don’t be result oriented. I got into that on the PGA Tour, and I was focused on finishes and cuts, which is the wrong thing. There is so much money out there and you can get caught up in thinking about how one finish might change your life or make you rich. The results will come with the process of getting better.
Giants or Patriots?
Giants, and I think they cover the three point spread as well. I think Eli (Manning) is a pretty good guy and I think he has gotten a bit of a raw deal in the public since he is Peyton’s little brother. I would like to see him in the Hall of Fame. Plus former Buckeye Jake Ballard plays for the Giants as well.
Who is your dream foursome?
Emerill lagace: He could cook breakfast, lunch at the turn and dinner afterwards.
Urban Meyer: I could befriend him and help him with his game while getting all kinds of tickets and sideline passes.
My best friend and college roommate Dan Bonner: he always keeps me laughing nonstop and always has jokes. Plus he is a high 70s, low 80s type shooter.
And I would want Dave Matthews caddying so he can play songs in between holes and while we are walking to shots. I picture him riding along side in a golf cart or something.
What is one thing about being on the PGA Tour that people wouldn’t expect or don’t know?
On Wednesday, the pro-am day, there are times you are not allowed to be on the practice green and driving range. There is fine for breaking the rules. PGA Tour players can get kicked off the range on Wednesday.
Wilson kicks off his season in Bogota, Colombia at the Nationwide Tour’s Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship which begins on Feb. 16.