Rutledge a rookie on Tour

Jim Rutledge of Victoria, B.C., waited 28 years to make it to the PGA Tour. At 47, he plans to make...

Jim Rutledge of Victoria, B.C., waited 28 years to make it to the PGA Tour. At 47, he plans to make the most of it. (Edmonton Sun File/Perry Mah)

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

There's plenty that Victoria native Jim Rutledge won't be able to control during his rookie season on the PGA Tour. So he was taking care of business over the holidays, concerning himself with planning that could be done.

Rutledge researched hotels and other information for his travel schedule, which included a trip to Oahu, where he will be in the field at this week's Sony Open.

When he left, Rutledge thought he might have to qualify today in Honolulu, but as it turns out he needn't bother.

"I have to try to play as many (tournaments) as I can. It's up in the air how much the FedEx Cup is going to affect the fields. A lot of guys are going to want to play early in the year," Rutledge said.

He is entering uncharted territory, as is the entire Tour, with the new FedEx Cup points race as players scramble to make the playoffs that lead into the new, muscled-up Tour Championship in September.

The Tour looks to be more unpredictable than ever for newcomers this year, but professional stability never has been in great supply anyway for a guy who waited 28 years before making it as a 47-year-old rookie, the second-oldest in Tour history.

"It's all fun. I don't mind it one bit. I'm in the right spot now," said Rutledge, who turned pro in 1978 and became an enigma with his inability to make it to golf's highest level despite a swing that is admired by his peers.

"He sure is well-respected by the rest of the players," said Dan Halldorson, a two-time PGA Tour winner who now serves as deputy director of the Canadian Tour, where Rutledge toiled for years.

"Sometimes, you just don't get the breaks. He's the type of person who just says, 'Oh well.'

"He's very, very calm. He's just had some really bad breaks at certain times in his career. Everyone needs some luck and some breaks," said Halldorson, a Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member.

Rutledge got a break, but it wasn't a lucky one, in Trinidad in the early 1980s, which illustrates Halldorson's point. Rutledge had qualified for the final at PGA Tour qualifying school but while walking down a hill, slipped and fractured a bone in his left hand to once again delay his dream of playing on tour.

There have been other battles, as well. His wife, Jill, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and went through chemotherapy with her dad, who was also battling cancer.

PERSPECTIVE

While her dad didn't make it, Jill survived and Rutledge said their battles with a life-threatening disease put things into perspective for him.

"You just don't know what's ahead of you," said Rutledge, who likely will see some peaks and valleys this season after an outstanding season on the Nationwide Tour in 2006 which began with a tie for 11th in Panama.

Just a few weeks later, a win at the New Zealand PGA Championship set him on his way to where he stands today. Rutledge was happy with the fact that he kept his momentum going over the entire season.

He had five top-10 finishes overall and despite a shaky September, when he missed three cuts, he rebounded to finish with four top-25 finishes including a tie for 14th at the Nationwide Tour Championship to place 14th on the money list and earn his PGA Tour card.

"I really buckled down, knowing that I didn't want to be disappointed at the end of the year, so I put my foot on the gas.

"No way was I going to start taking weeks off and resting on my laurels," said Rutledge, who hopes the momentum of 2006 carries into this season.

"There really isn't much turnaround time," said Rutledge, who had just a few weeks off after the Nationwide season before playing in the World Cup with Mike Weir in early December.

Just a few weeks later, he's ready for his first year on the PGA Tour and nothing has changed with the workmanlike attitude he had last year and for his entire career.

There will be highs and lows and he will take each spike in fortune in a calm and businesslike manner.

Some things just don't change after close to 30 years.


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