July 19, 2007
Nelford still has driveFormer PGA regular chasing Champions Tour dream -- behind wheel of an RV
By CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media
Jim Nelford's address this week is the parking lot at The Marshes Golf Club.
Tucked in one of the back spots in the lot, facing some trees, is the 36-foot motorhome the 50-year-old pro is using to chase his dream of resurrecting his playing career and a chance to play the Champions Tour.
For this week, it has brought him here to play in the BreckonRidge Canadian PGA Championship, which gets under way tomorrow.
"I took all my stuff out of my apartment and put it in storage, so that's my address right now, that RV," said Nelford yesterday. "That's saying, 'That's my commitment.' At times it gets so frustrating you wonder if you've made the right choice. It represents the commitment for the next two or three years of doing this no matter how tough it gets."
At 50, when most people are settling into pre-retirement mode, Nelford (and a lot of other guys hitting the magic mark that makes them eligible for "seniors" golf), are going back to the same lifestyle they lived in their early 20s when they were trying to break onto the PGA Tour.
The wheels are nicer this time around.
Nelford, and Ottawa's Graham Gunn, the defending CPGA Seniors champ, are out there chasing nine spots a week on the Champions Tour in Monday qualifying.
Rabbits, they used to call them, hopping from one event to another.
It's a tough gig.
EARNED A COUPLE FILLUPS
Nelford has made it into two Champions Tour events this year and has earned just $1,792, or what amounts to a few fillups for a motorhome.
"I've put a lot of my financial resources into doing it and all of my emotional resources, but it's fun to be able to try and do that," he said. "I've put my eggs in this basket and I'm trying not to stumble down this highway. It's that whole challenge all over again. That's exciting. It's fun. It's also disappointing and it's gut wrenching."
Nelford has given up his successful broadcasting career (except for the events he does for TSN) to try and crack the hard shell around the lucrative Champions Tour, which is pretty much a closed shop.
With so many Champions Tour players exempt through career money or victories earned on the PGA Tour, there are just those nine spots in the Champions field open each week. There are usually about 60 players fighting for those spots.
It's so competitive, some players have to qualify on a Friday for a spot in Monday's qualifier.
But bucking the odds isn't new to Nelford.
He is one of few Canadians to have battled his way into a regular spot on the PGA Tour. A two-time Canadian Amateur champion in the mid-70s, Nelford played the PGA Tour for 10 years in the '80s.
His career was derailed by that terrifying waterskiing accident near Phoenix in Sept. 1985 when a boat propeller ripped into his right forearm, breaking his arm in nine places and shredding nerves.
He was in the hospital for a month and he required numerous surgeries and skin grafts.
Beyond the physical damage there was an emotional toll, too, after such a traumatic, life-threatening event.
Nelford remembered yesterday going to bed and sweating through two or three T-shirts a night for four or five years after the accident.
EMPATHY FOR WAR VETS
"Your body reacts a lot of times in very violent ways. I suffered through that in a big way for a number of years. I'd wake up in violent spasms. You try to forget that," said Nelford. "It makes me understand what happens to young guys when they go to war and how difficult it is. It's a horrible thing. I have a lot of empathy for those guys."
Nelford is still in search of the inner peace that will allow him to perform to the level he thinks he can.
The motorhome represents a more relaxed way to travel, said Nelford, and helps him create his own, controlled world.
"I enjoy the whole lifestyle of it. I've always rather been in a motel than a hotel where I can open the door and go outside and swing a golf club," he said.
"You feel like you're coming home to a place where you've got your stuff. You can kind of control your day. After 20 or 30 years of rushing for planes and going to airports and worrying about missing a flight and all that stuff ...airports aren't fun anymore. This is something I've been thinking about for quite a while...it's create your own world and see how long you can live in it because there's all sort of distractions to pull you out of it."
You want to root for guys like Nelford.
How many people -- when they look back on it -- will be able to say they chased their ultimate dream?