By Mike Dougherty
There is no explanation for the dramatic turnaround, but Andrew Svoboda was quick to note the benefits of a breakthrough win at last month’s Price Cutter Charity Championship.
“I did sleep well that night,” he said.
After struggling to learn new layouts and make cuts, the PGA Tour rookie’s future was in doubt. Time was running short. Something extremely positive had to happen at either of the last Web.com Tour events on the schedule, or the former Larchmont resident might’ve been updating his resume.
“We talked for a while on Monday, and it was a really good conversation,” said Nick Maselli, an Old Oaks assistant professional and longtime friend. “He’s completely changed his attitude. Finally. Nobody’s had a harder road than Andrew. This is somebody who had to caddie. This is somebody who had to work in the bag room. He doesn’t have much in the way of family. He doesn’t have money. I told him, ‘You deserve this. You deserve everything that you get.’ ”
Svoboda regained his PGA Tour card by finishing in the top 25 on the Web.com money list. He also became eligible for the new Finals events, a series of four tournaments for players who did not keep or earn a PGA Tour card. And with the anxiety on hold, the 33-year-old won again last week at the Chiquita Classic, the second Finals event.
“That’s golf right there,” Svoboda said.
Getting adjusted to life on the PGA Tour wasn’t easy, and the former St. John’s standout missed five cuts in a row at the start of the season.
“There was a learning curve,” Svoboda said. “I wasn’t used to dealing with all of that change. I had to get used to new courses and new places. And it’s a different style of play. I had to learn that par is good. At most Web.com Tour events, you have to be 20-under to have a chance.”
It’s a struggle that perhaps resulted in too much reflection.
“Most of these other guys are going home to a wife and kids,” Maselli said. “Andrew was always coming back to an empty hotel room or an empty apartment.”
The isolation exacted a mental toll on the Mamaroneck grad.
“I keep telling Andrew that he needs to find a hobby,” St. John’s coach Frank Darby said, only half-joking.
Svoboda played 17 events on the PGA Tour, making just five cuts and finishing 202nd on the money last.
“He called me at one point in the middle of the season and told me he might quit,” Maselli said. “He was sleeping one hour a night and was like, ‘How am I going to compete against these guys like this?’ I reminded him that he was cleaning clubs a couple of years ago and told him, ‘You’ve earned your place on the PGA Tour, you have the game to be there.’ ”
A couple of nagging injuries didn’t help matters, and Svoboda dropped a longtime swing coach. He missed the cut at the Reno-Tahoe Open, and the next week he was chasing rainbows on the Web.com Tour in Springfield, Mo., and closed the Price Cutter Charity Championship with an 8-under 64 to win by three strokes.
“I put in a lot of work to get on the PGA Tour so this season was tough,” he said. “I hit the ball well the week before (the win) in Reno, but I didn’t score well. I’ve always been comfortable at Springfield … and the last round there was probably the best of my life.”
Closing with a 64 is good for the mind and body.
Svoboda tied for 37th the following week at the Wyndham Championship, his best finish on the PGA Tour. If a PGA Tour member’s status is low enough, he can bounce back and forth between PGA Tour events and Web.com events.
Svoboda went back to the Web.com Tour, and narrowly missed the next two cuts before donning a ridiculous yellow jacket after beating Will MacKenzie with a par on the first hole of sudden death. The goal now is to pile up money in the final two Finals events.
Each dollar improves PGA Tour status, and if Svoboda wins more than any of his peers in the final four events, he’ll be able to pick and choose what tournaments he enters next season. The downside of this run is the fact that he’s played 11 straight weeks. And when it’s over, Svoboda will get a week at home in Florida to rest before the new PGA Tour schedule kicks off.
“It really was a miracle, pulling this out,” Svoboda said. “You never really know what’s going to happen. Look at Ben Curtis and the British Open. It can just come out of nowhere. You can make a name for yourself with one good week.”