Stuck in a rut

ROB LONGLEY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

He was barely out of his teens at the time, into his third year as a professional and ready to take the golf world by storm.

No college career.

No minor pro circuits to learn the ropes. Just a fast track to the big time.

Such was the depth of talent possessed by Jim Rutledge that he was seen as a can’t-miss prospect and Canada’s next golfing superstar.

In fact, that view was shared by none other than Arnold Palmer, who was paired with the Victoria native for the first two rounds of the 1981 CPGA Championship in Kitchener.

Walking down the fairways of Westmount Golf and Country Club, the King raved about Rutledge’s length off the tee, predicting a bright future on the PGA Tour. A quarter-century later, Rutledge is finally getting his chance.

At age 47, four months and six days, Rutledge became the second-oldest Tour “rookie” when he teed it up at the Sony Open in Hawaii last month.

While he never would have imagined he would take so long to play alongside the greats of the game, Rutledge still remembers those two days with the King and how it only added to his motivation to make it.

“It was a thrill, I don’t think that really deep down it sunk in at the time,” Rutledge said. “He was a great guy and I enjoyed the first two days I got to play golf with him.”

Since then, Rutledge has been around the block, not to mention the world, more than a few times.

He has played with varying degrees of distinction on tours in Canada, Asia and in Europe.

But over the years, Rutledge went from “can’t miss” to “can’t believe he didn’t make it.”

Over the years, Rutledge lost count how many times he failed at the excruciating PGA Tour School, though that number is reported to be 13.

Some of those episodes he was never in contention, others he flirted with earning his card.

The most heart-wrenching shortfall came in the mid- 80s when Rutledge had quali- fied for the final stage and was playing some of the sharpest golf in his career.

But a freak broken wrist while on vacation forced him to withdraw and it was back to the bushes.

Rutledge can admit now that he had his doubts as to whether he would ever get his shot.

He had lived a good life on the links, just not as good as many felt it would be.

“I may have thought that it would never come around, but my family’s always been behind me, especially my wife and son,” Rutledge said.

“They’ve always been the ones to keep me out there and keep me pushing.

“Deep down, I think they knew I had the game. I think I knew it too, but time might have been running out. I think maybe this year was it.”

This year indeed was “it” as Rutledge played well enough on the feeder Nationwide Tour in 2005. Finishing 14th in earnings gave him the ticket so many had expected he would have punched decades ago.

The glass half-empty view of the opportunity is that time, in fact, likely has run out for Rutledge, at least as it relates to his chance to compete with the long-bombing young guns.

The upside is that if Rutledge gets in a groove, there, at least, exists the potential of a lucrative afterlife on the Senior Tour, not to mention some nice cheques in the interim.

Over the years “Rut,” as he was known on pro tours around the world, saw many of his friends and travelling pals make their way on the greenest of pro golf’s fairways.

Mike Weir. Chris DiMarco. Stuart Appleby. Steve Stricker. All were regular playing partners on lesser tours where companionship was an important key to survival.

And all those and more are rooting for him now.

“When I’d bump into those guys as I often would, they’d all say ‘G et your butt out here,’ ” said Rutledge, who failed to make the cut in his first two starts this year.

“ ‘You’ve paid your dues. Get yourself where you need to be and that’s on Tour.’ ”

A little later than expected, a little greyer than when he first turned pro, Rutledge is finally getting his chance.

ACE OF CLUBS

Name: Jim Rutledge

Age: 47

Turned pro: 1978

First pro win: 1979 British Columbia Open.

Most recent win: 2006 New Zealand PGA Championship.

Best PGA Tour finish: Tied for 26 in 1982 Canadian Open.


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