By Dan Reardon
The argument could be made that in the field last week at The Barclays sophomore Tour player Zac Blair was an anomaly. In one sense, in the world of professional athletes he is a standout success. In another sense, in his chosen professional field he is at best a question mark.
The success stems largely from the exclusivity among pro athletes attached to a PGA Tour membership. There are nearly 1700 players on NFL rosters, more than 700 professional athletes in both major league baseball and the NHL and the close to 400 in the NBA. To have full standing on the PGA Tour, you have to be one of 125, statistically the hardest league to crack.
In two full years on Tour, the 26-year old Blair has earned slightly over $2,000,000. Just over double what the minimum in MLB is but an envious amount for the rest of us.
From a golf standpoint, his two years on Tour have not had a really distinguishing moment save once. In 66 career starts he has never finished higher than third (once), had only four Top 10’s and missed the cut for the weekend on an average of once every three starts.
His claim to fame thus far came in May of this year at Wells Fargo. On the fifth hole on Friday, Blair missed a birdie putt and whacked himself in the head with the putter, bending the shaft. He tapped in for par and was notified on the next hole he was DQ’d for using a non-conforming club. He was contrite and apologetic afterward but did manage to Tweet a video of Woody Austin using his head as an anvil for his putter a few years earlier.
In some ways Blair epitomizes what the PGA Tour has constructed as the natural progression for a Tour career. He was a credentialed junior player tutored by his father who proceeded him in the collegiate ranks at BYU. “I learned everything from my dad. He’s been my only coach my whole life. It’s definitely great to have somebody like that with you all the time or a phone call away. He’s still a great player, and I still like to play with him, and I definitely keep learning from him.”
In four years at BYU, Blair collected four wins and left the program in 2012 an All-American. The natural next step was the Tour’s developmental stages. He covered the package with appearances on the Latin American Tour, the Mackenzie Tour and eventually the Web.com Tour through the latter half of 2014. Only 41st in earnings he picked up his Tour card when, after missing four consecutive cuts, he finished second at the Web. Com Tour Championship.
He cashed checks in five of his first six PGA appearances and broke through with a T6 at Sony in Hawaii. A flurry in San Diego was followed by a season of treading water, making cuts, cashing checks but never actually contending again until the start of the FedEx series.
After missing five cuts and never cracking the Top 30 in eight events he turned in four rounds in the 60’s at The Barclays, improving by a stroke each day to finish T4 and enjoy his biggest payday with $363,000.
This year was a step back from his rookie season although he enjoyed his island stay again with a solo third at Sony. He placed inside the Top 20 only two other times in 31 events but longevity on Tour can be sustained with one big payday and enough weekends to round out the sum for the year. In Blair’s case he was back at Barclays with a FedEx standing inside 120 and guaranteed a 2017 PGA tour schedule.
At 5’6’’ and under 160 Blair has never seen the golf course that Dustin Johns and Bubba Watson play in two ways. He averages a more than two club difference into every green but he plays from the short grass more often than all but five players on Tour. “I obviously don’t hit it as far as most of the guys out here, but at the end of the day, I think it just kind of comes down to getting the ball in the hole, and if you’re able to do that, you obviously seem to be finding yourself at the top of the leaderboard more often than not.”
Whether Blair ever climbs that last rung one week in the future is more unlikely than not, but what he has demonstrated is that he’ll be in the field often enough every year to give that straightened putter a chance at a trophy tap in.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.