It's a tough go-round

Lori Points pops the trunk of the dark blue Buick Lucerne and her husband carefully puts his tools away.

He doesn't throw them. Or slam them. Or accuse them of betrayal.

D.A. Points is the caretaker of the tools. What happened on the steamy day in suburban Chicago was all him. And mostly good. The second-year PGA player shot 67 at the Western Open, among the best scores in the second round. It wasn't enough.

"You played great," supportive Lori says as D.A. speeds away from Lemont toward downtown Chicago.

"Except for it doesn't get me any money," D.A. Points says. "It doesn't pay us anything."

The 67 followed a first-round 77 that put Points near the tournament abyss. To make the cut, the former Illinois golfer needed his best round of the season.

It was there. With two holes left, Points was one birdie away from spending the weekend at Cog Hill.

"Just one good drive," Points says, his hands clutching the steering wheel.

Not today. Not this tournament. Not for No. 154 on the money list.

We think of the PGA Tour and images of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson pop into our heads. But 29-year-old Points is the reality of pro golf: a young guy struggling to find his way. He grinds. He sweats. Every shot matters. Every dollar earned matters.

Mickelson doesn't haul his own clubs. Points does.

Woods doesn't fly commercial. Points does.

Vijay Singh doesn't worry about getting a great deal at a hotel. Points does.

Points does it all without complaint and with an optimistic eye toward the future. He does it with his new bride Lori following along at each course, giving him a kiss for good luck before the round and fretting when he struggles.

As he prepares to turn onto Interstate 55, Points spots a vintage orange Corvette in mint condition. "He has taken very good care of that," Points says.

Golfers crave perfection because they know they can't achieve it. Nobody has ever shot 18. There is always room for improvement.

As the traffic thickens, D.A. plots the rest of the night. He makes dinner plans with friends and talks to another golfer, recounting his round. It's all matter-of-fact. If he's feeling any pain, Points isn't going to let on.

"What's the pressure?" Points says. "Pressure is what Phil Mickelson had (at the U.S. Open). There, you can lose it. I can't miss the cut. I'm already outside the cut. I can only make the cut."

Points zooms past cars on Lake Shore Drive on his way to the Westin Hotel. He goes to his room for a quick shower, then off to dinner.

The night is still young. He's got the weekend off. The Western Open is officially in his rearview mirror.

*****

This isn't a typical weekend on the Tour for Points. Because he is in Chicago, there are a handful of friends he wants to see.

They agree to meet at Avenue M, a trendy new restaurant on Milwaukee Avenue. Lori had read about the place and wants to give it a try.

The party includes Tommy DiSanto and his girlfriend Leonna, Jim and Diana Kerrigan, Mark Walsh, PGA golfer B.J. Staten and Lori's friend Pat.

They sit in Avenue M's outdoor patio area, which is decorated with a handful of fruit trees. The group divides by gender.

The owner of the restaurant comes back to say hello. He knows DiSanto, who co-owns Chicago's successful nightspot Joe's Bar.

DiSanto is the link between Points, the Kerrigans and Walsh. DiSanto was in Lori and D.A.'s wedding in December and saw D.A. propose a year ago at Chicago's Ballo restaurant. He followed D.A.'s Friday round at the Western Open and watches whenever he can.

DiSanto first met Points while the golfer was at Illinois. A member of the school's Loyalty Circle and a recent addition to the athletic board, DiSanto sought out Points at a banquet. Bottom line of the conversation was that DiSanto was willing to work with Points in the future.

DiSanto helped fund Points early in his golfing career, giving him $25,000 to $30,000 a year.

"I knew he was a great, great talent, and he had a chance to be successful," DiSanto says. "I admire what those guys go through, and he's an Illinois guy. I had to help out an Illinois guy when I could."

Their financial relationship ended when Points made the Tour, which comes with about $250,000 to $300,000 in endorsement deals.

"We got paid back, and we ended up making a very nice return on our investment," DiSanto says. "But I never did it for the money."

At dinner, the men quickly get into a golf movie discussion. That evolves into talk about Kevin Costner movies (DiSanto is a big fan).

The service is slow, giving the guys something to gripe about while the conversation goes from movies to sports to music.

DiSanto's bar features popular country music acts. He spends several minutes trying to convince rap-leaning Points that he would like the tunes. Points isn't buying it.

The food comes in deliberate waves, first huge salads, then the main course. Points orders a filet.

With no round to play the next day, Points drinks some wine. Alcohol, he admits, is his one indulgence. Actually, it has become more of a hobby, with Lori and D.A. enjoying wine tasting on their long road trips.

As the meal drags on, the impatient waiting staff tries to hustle the group away from the table. They want to close down the area, and the Points party is one of the last in the room.

The owner and several assistants offer the group its own area in the upstairs lounge. They flow en masse, ordering drinks when they arrive on the balcony.

Staten, who like Points is trying to move up the money list, grabs the drink bill from the waitress and pays for the round. The rest of the guys protest, each wanting to pay more than his share.

If you didn't know better, you would have no idea Points is a professional athlete. He doesn't ask for special favors. He's just a guy getting something to drink with his wife and pals.

Later, the party moves to Joe's. Lori and D.A. stay for about an hour and go back to their hotel for a relaxing, though profit-free, weekend.

The couple sleeps in late Saturday before going to the gym and dinner at Ballo.

On Sunday, Lori returns to Orlando, Fla. Her sister soon will be moving to Charlotte, N.C., so Lori wants to spend part of the week with her. She'll reconnect with D.A. on Wednesday and talk to him often on the phone.

*****

No offense to his buddies, but Points would have preferred an early Friday night. That would have meant he was playing in Saturday's third round at Cog Hill. The last thing a golfer wants is a weekend with nothing to do.

How did he get here? How did he come so close and miss the cut?

Start and finish the answer with the opening-round 77. That put him in a deep, deep hole.

It's been a seasonlong issue. After this weekend's John Deere Classic, Points has missed the cut in 12 of 17 events. The five checks he cashed were for $143,000 (career-best tie for 10th at the Honda Classic), $25,691.25 (Buick Classic), $20,280 (FedEx St. Jude Classic), $11,311.11 (Bob Hope Chrysler) and $10,835 (Shell Houston Open). That's $211,117, a healthy figure for a dentist or accountant, but an on-the-exemption-bubble total for a pro golfer.

Points is literally playing for his livelihood. If he finishes in the top 125 on the money list, he keeps his Tour card and all is well. Right now, he's off the pace by $187,769.

With two holes to go at the Western, Points is in position to make some money. On his 17th hole, Points hits his drive behind a willow tree, chips out to the fairway, puts his third shot 10 feet past the hole and rolls in the downhill putt for a par. It is a great save that does him no good. Instead, it eats another opportunity for birdie.

On his 18th, a long par 5, Points pushes another drive left. It takes him 2 more shots to get back into the fairway, ending his hopes for the mandatory 4.

"How does that (drive) happen?" Points says. "I can't figure out how to stop it."

The first 16 holes had been, well, different. There was the impossible sand shot he holed for a pump-your-fist-scream-out-loud birdie. Unfortunately, nobody in the mostly pro-Points gallery had a video camera, and the television network had long since shut down its broadcast.

There is a stoppage of play at No. 3 while Points flosses his teeth.

"I had some lunch meat in there, and it was bothering me the whole front nine," Points says. "I got it close and on the first hole, I ripped a page out of a program. I got it part of the way out, and the paper ripped off under the tooth. Now it was magnified. I'm going to buy some floss and put it in my bag."

As he completes the "disappointing" 67, Points turns to the crowd and says "thank you, everyone, for coming out." He signs autographs, gives Lori another kiss and says "it wasn't pretty."

Among the crowd of followers is Mary Jo Points, D.A.'s mom. She makes the long trip from her Florida home and also follows her son at the John Deere Classic.

"He was always very serious about golf, even when he was 5," Mary Jo Points says. "He wanted to be out there every chance he could."

It was Mary Jo, not her husband Steve, who chased D.A. around the golf course. At first, they would start together on the women's tees. Once D.A. could consistently drive his ball past Mom's, he would move back a tee.

*****

Lori's full-time job is with Team Points. The Central Florida graduate used to work at the Golf Channel but quit to go on the road with her husband.

She helps arrange travel, looking for good deals on hotels. Because they'll be spending as much as a week in the place, comfort and space are important. So is cost.

Lori's parents and siblings are transplanted Ohioans. D.A.'s parents and sister Tiffany also live in the Orlando area.

D.A. and Lori Points first met at a bar. She was with her sister and two friends. D.A. was with his buddy on a drink special night. The buddy began dating Lori's friend, a relationship that lasted for years. That kept Lori and D.A. connected, though they didn't date for a while.

Lori wears a large diamond on her ring finger. The set was designed by D.A. with the help of Bay Hill Jewelers.

DiSanto says marriage has been good for Points' golf career.

"I've seen him go from being single to having a relationship to being married," DiSanto says. "Being married is the best thing for a golfer. The stability you get from that is great."

*****

Normally, Monday is Points' time to take it easy. Get some laundry done. Relax. Watch some television.

Not this week. For the second year in a row, he accepts an invitation to the Rockford Pro-Am. It's a low-pay (about $1,500) event that brings together pros on the way up and down the money list.

The headliner this year is Champions Tour star Dana Quigley. The field includes 2006 PGA tournament winners Chris Couch and J.B. Holmes, plus recognizable veterans Billy Mayfair and Kenny Perry.

On a threatening morning at Forest Hills Country Club, the golfers start with a four-hole scramble. Points is paired with Quigley, Jason Bohn, Russ Cochran and Couch. An older volunteer tells "Ponts" that he will be driving him to the first hole.

Despite the weather, there is a decent crowd for the 30-year-old Pro-Am. A cheerful woman at the tournament tent says, "the rain's not supposed to come until later" as the clouds darken.

The players seem oblivious. They talk about their swings and their seasons.

On the third hole of the scramble, a par-5, Points puts his second shot on the green. "That's as far as I can hit it." Quigley smokes a cigar while hitting short.

Points' team finishes tied for third. Though it's just for fun, the players want to do well.

"Every one of us is competitive," Points says.

With a few minutes to kill between the end of the scramble and the start of the Pro-Am, Points calls his coach, Bloomington's Rick Sellers, to set up a Tuesday session.

Points is paired with four amateur players. The foursome is using a better-ball format, while Points' score will stand alone. A year ago, he won with a course-record 64.

Early in the round, Points gives tips to the amateurs. Two of the players, Rodger and Rick, eagerly take the advice. The other two, Jim and high schooler Jake, aren't as thrilled about the advice.

Jim complains about Points' pointers, though not to his face. "I didn't ask," Jim mutters under his breath after he fails to execute a shot.

"Any time somebody changes something and they get uncomfortable, they're going to feel defensive," Points says. "I know that. It's my job to convince them."

Points senses the concern and stops to talk to Jim.

"I wouldn't give you bad advice," Points says.

Young Jake is another story. Not only does he ignore Points' advice, he also laughs at the player with his friends.

"He didn't pay attention to anything," Points says. "The kid has a little bit of ability. At 16, I thought I knew everything. At the same time, I didn't have a PGA Tour professional offering me advice."

What if it had been Woods instead of Points?

"He wouldn't have been able to pull the club back with Tiger standing there," Points says. "He would have been too nervous."

After playing No. 18, Points is interviewed by a local television station. The reporter asks if Forest Hills is capable of hosting a PGA event and Points politely praises the course. The reality is the PGA isn't coming to Rockford now or ever.

But Points says he will be back for the Pro-Am as long as he is asked.

At the end of the round, he gives golf balls to caddie Adam Hageman, a junior at Belvidere. It is Hageman's first time carrying a bag, and Points praises the effort.

*****

The good part of the Rockford Pro-Am is the organizers offer a free bus trip to the PGA players. At 6 p.m., Points climbs aboard for the two-hour drive to Silvis, site of the John Deere Classic.

Points gets to the course, where he signs for another Buick courtesy car. It's a whole lot more convenient than last weekend, when Points had to go from O'Hare Airport to Cog Hill, take two seconds to sign a sheet of paper, then make the long drive to the Westin.

At the John Deere Classic, the course is about 5 miles from Moline's Stoney Creek Inn, where Points plans to spend the week.

Points arrives at the new hotel at 8:15 p.m. Several of the PGA players have beaten him to the place, checking in earlier in the day and packing the hotel bar and restaurant. Points makes small talk with receptionist Janelle Soliz, asking about the workout area.

The hotel fits the needs of the players. The rooms are large, with a refrigerator, couch and two TVs. There is free breakfast in the morning and several nearby food options. And did we mention the downtown casino? Always a popular stop for some of the touring pros.

Normally, Points takes his golf bag to his room. But the low-risk neighborhood gives Points the chance to leave his clubs in the car.

On his bed sits a stuffed beaver, which Points can own for $19.95.

"This thing will scare (Lori) to death," Points says.

Lori calls at 8:45 p.m., asking about the room and the services. She's happy to hear it's a good deal for $89 a night.

Points unpacks in about five minutes, meticulously hanging up his endless supply of shirts and pants. He fills the closets and drawers.

Many of the clothes have the PING label. As part of his deal with the company, Points gets 70 pieces for free. That includes shirts, pants, jackets, you name it. He also gets four hats a week.

He has endorsement contracts with PING, Titleist and TaylorMade. They provide both cash and product.

When he reaches the course at each tournament site, Titleist will have three dozen balls and four new gloves waiting for him in his locker. Titleist also gives him 16 pairs of golf shoes a year.

TaylorMade provides Points with a driver. His clubs are by PING. Points doesn't know the actual cost of his clubs, but he guesses the driver is worth about $500, his clubs $2,000 and his putter $350.

Buddy and fellow pro John Engler calls at 9:10 p.m. They discuss plans for the next night's pig roast, sponsored by John Deere. Engler is one of the guys Points hangs out with on the road. The group includes Staten and Jimmy Walker.

There isn't much to watch on television as baseball's Home Run Derby winds down. Points will watch sports on television, but not just anything.

"I'm not going to watch Orioles-Mets," Points says.

If it's the Cubs, White Sox or his preferred Cardinals, Points tunes in. Or any golf. Or most basketball, especially his alma mater.

Though golf is his livelihood, basketball is his passion. His dad built a court in their backyard when Points was young, and he remembers shoveling snow off it so he could shoot.

Even now, when he's home in Orlando, Points keeps his basketball game fresh. Each day, he'll spend 30 minutes at the Y shooting jumpers, three-pointers and free throws. His dream, he'll happily admit, is to play H-O-R-S-E against Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Followed by some golf.

It usually takes Points a night to get adjusted to a new hotel bed, and the first time at the Stoney Creek Inn is no exception. It's a somewhat restless night for Points, who has a mid-morning lesson scheduled with Sellers.

*****

At 9:30 on a rainy Tuesday morning, Points makes his first official visit to the TPC at Deere Run. Of course, he carts his own golf bag to the locker room, stopping first to register for the John Deere Classic.

Unlike the Western Open, which included Woods, Mickelson and Singh, the John Deere doesn't have the star power. In fact, the biggest name in the field is a 16-year-old girl (Michelle Wie). Of the top 20 money winners on the Tour, only one (No. 17 Zach Johnson) is playing at Moline. Still, the money is good, with a purse of $4 million.

Points wants his share of that cash and calls in some help to make it happen. Points' longtime coach, Sellers, drives up from Bloomington.

Sellers and Points first hooked up when Points was 12. Sellers wasn't real interested at first, his lesson calendar already fully booked. Then, he watched Points hit. He saw the ball control and the poise and the potential.

"I think I can work with you," Sellers remembers telling Points and his parents.

At the crowded driving range, Points fills a gap between Shigeki Maruyama and Camilo Villegas. Jason Gore, the Tour's Chris Farley, laughs loudly down the line.

But Points isn't laughing about his swing, which feels wrong to him. It's Sellers' job to help Points regain his comfort and confidence.

Sellers videotapes Points as the player hits ball after ball after ball. Caddie Matt Hall stands close, offering support.

"It's not horrible," Points says to Sellers after one swing.

To the common person, the shots all look good. The ball flies high and deep.

Still, Points isn't satisfied. He doesn't want to go into Thursday's first round wondering if he can hit it where he wants.

"We're not trying to revamp anything," Sellers says. "All we're trying to do is find a piece that fits, that puts things together.

"I don't think he's got major issues at all. Everybody has something about their golf swing that unfortunately they hang onto. D.A.'s tendency is to get his arms off his body too much on the downswing. We're trying to find a way to keep his arms in against him a little bit more."

During one partial swing, Sellers makes an arm adjustment on Points. It seems to help.

One shot brings a heavy sigh from Points.

"I just feel I have no control over my arms and body. Is that a bad thing?" Points says. "I thought I had it figured out. I thought I knew what to do to get it there. Now, it's not working."

There is little banter among the players. But one smart guy fires a ball down the range line, mimicking a famous scene from "Tin Cup."

During his session, Points is interrupted by a member of PGA Tour Productions. She wants to interview him, and Points agrees to do it Wednesday. Just not now.

Points continues with the self-analysis, most of it is critical.

"I feel like I have no power."

"I feel so gross."

"Everything works for a little while."

He trips over the range rope and playfully smashes it with his driver.

The self-deprecation doesn't alarm Sellers. To him, it's part of the process.

"He believes strongly in himself," Sellers says. "When's he beating himself up a little bit, all he's trying to do is demand a lot of himself, and he feels as though he can deliver it."

After an hour on the range and putting green, Points, Hall and Sellers go to the first tee. They are joined by Ryan Moore, a talented young golfer who tied for 13th in the 2005 Masters as an amateur. Both players take extra shots from the fairway and on the green.

As Points and Moore finish No. 2, they add James Driscoll and Will Mackenzie to the group. Driscoll never has played the course, and Points offers advice.

Sellers follows the group, watching Points from behind in the tee box and fairway. At the green, Sellers moves ahead of the group. On a steamy day, the 49-year-old is sweating without the joy of playing.

At the No. 5 green, the players chat about the HBO show "Entourage," a favorite of Points. They also compare the new "Superman" to the Christopher Reeve version. And you thought they were talking about birdies and pars.

Players aren't assigned partners for practice rounds. They basically make them up themselves. Points prefers to play by himself.

"I can go as fast as I want," Points says.

There is one guy in particular he wants to practice with: Singh.

"I want to play with him on a Tuesday," Points says. "If I see him in the locker room and say, 'Hey Vijay, do you have a game today?' And he probably will. But if says, 'No.' I'll say, 'Can I get in a game with you?' and he probably will. I'm going to try to, before the year is out, to work my way into a game with him. That's why I'm there. I want to play with the best players."

By the end of the round, Points is feeling better about his swing and his game.

"He's a terrific listener," Sellers says. "The thing about D.A. is he's very particular about his listening, too. You have to prove it to him. You have to prove that this is correct. He's an A student. He's an intelligent golfer. He's successful because of what he is."

*****

When he won his first Nationwide tournament back in 2001, Points took the giant cardboard check to Denny's and tried to pay for dinner. They didn't laugh. Eventually, he mailed the $76,500 check back home (for $100) and put it up on the wall.

Sellers promises there will be more really big checks for Points. The PGA kind.

"He will win," Sellers says. "He will win more than once. I already think he's successful."

The differences between Points and the guys in the top 20 are minimal. A stroke or 2 per round. That's it.

"He can't wait to get in that Sunday final pairing," Sellers says. "He's the guy who wants the ball."

Sellers is looking forward to it.

"It will be like a coach winning the NCAA tournament," Sellers says. "It's probably what you work for. I get the chance to work with a lot of kids. When they come back and show you the trophy they've won, that's just as exciting. With D.A., if he wins this year, it would be a 29-year-old with that excitement instead of a 12-year-old."

The win won't come this weekend at the John Deere Classic. With a hole to go Friday, Points double-bogeys to miss the cut.

Next up for Points is the B.C. Open, which begins Thursday. He will keep going until all of the drives are straight and all of the putts fall.

"I've been playing competitive golf since I was 5 years old," Points says. "It's what I do. It's like eating and sleeping. It's part of who I am."

Sections (3):Illini Sports, Golf, Sports
Categories (3):Illini Sports, Golf, Sports

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments