Lamielle lives the PGA dream

Joey Lamielle waves after bogeying No. 11 during his first-round 76 Thursday. After Round 2, he was 13 over, missing the cut by six.

Associated Press

Joey Lamielle waves after bogeying No. 11 during his first-round 76 Thursday. After Round 2, he was 13 over, missing the cut by six.

SAN DIEGO — The leaderboard is for the privileged.

The stars, the prodigies and the well-heeled. The accomplished, the comfortable and the celebrated.

Tiger Woods is near the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard today. Davis Love and Rocco Mediate are back on the leaderboard, too. Forever's phenom, Stuart Appleby, is sitting on top.

Yes, the leaderboard is for the stars.

You go elsewhere to find the dreamers.

A dozen years ago you could have found one of them passing out fliers in Sarasota for a lawn mowing service that would fund his junior golf events at age 12. A few years later he was cleaning golf carts and working a banquet room at Sarasota's TPC at Prestancia, where he could play the course for free.

The past few years he has been toiling in mini-tour events and learning to survive with few luxuries and lots of credit cards.

And this week, the dreamer made it to the U.S. Open.

Joey Lamielle is not going to win the tournament. His time is already passed. With eight holes to play, he was in line to make the cut Friday, but he had five consecutive bogeys beginning at No. 11.

But that's not the point of the story. This is more about perseverance than glory. It's about a young man with no reason to believe he could be a professional golfer other than the faith he has in himself.

"It's a story of determination," said his father, Joe, while standing beside the No. 7 green at Torrey Pines on Friday with his wife, Debbie. "That's why we're so proud of him. He's been swimming upstream the whole time, and he won't quit."

It took a nine-hole playoff in a U.S. Open qualifier at Tequesta last week to get him here, which is fitting considering the rest of Lamielle's story.

This is not a tale of either wealth or fame. Lamielle did not grow up with a country club membership or a wealthy patron behind him. Just a mother and a father willing to drive him around Florida every summer for junior golf events.

By the time he was 12, Joey was talking about a career as a PGA Tour player. At 16 he became the youngest player to win the Sarasota City Championship, a tournament he would win two more times.

He got help from sponsors here and there — his father's employer, Acousti Engineering in Largo, helped pay for a lot of entry fees one summer — but Lamielle has done much of this on his own.

Since leaving Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, he has struggled to survive in the sport's minor leagues. He spent one year in South America on the Tour de las Americas and the past two years playing the Hooters Tour. Expenses consistently have outpaced his earnings. Around this time a year ago, Lamielle gave serious thought to giving up his dream and moving on with his life.

"We were nervous, too," his mother said. "We were worried and concerned about how he was going to survive. But he just couldn't give up on the idea that he would eventually make it."

The past few months have been kinder to Lamielle. He's placed in the top 10 in four of six events on the Hooters Tour and is No. 11 on the money list with $29,799. He also survived the U.S. Open region qualifier at Innisbrook in May, then the playoff at the section qualifier last week.

When he got to Torrey Pines, he found a locker full of free equipment. Hours later, he was on a putting green with Woods and Ernie Els.

"I belong out here," Lamielle, 25, said. "I felt comfortable with my game, comfortable with everything around me. I know now that this is an attainable goal. This changes everything for me. It's going to change the way I practice, the way I work out, the way I prepare."

The hope now is that Lamielle's exposure here might lead to more sponsorship opportunities. Or, perhaps, investors willing to finance his career in exchange for a cut of his earnings.

Lamielle is still a long way from having a spot in PGA events. The Nationwide Tour, which is a step up from Hooters, and the PGA Tour Q-School are more immediate possibilities.

By the time he was through Friday — after shooting 8-over 79 and missing the cut by six strokes — the grandstands at the 18th green were practically deserted.

The sun was setting, and his time as a PGA Tour player was through. At least for now.

"This is going to be the first of many for me, I know that," Lamielle said.

The day was done, but tomorrow brings another chance to dream.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

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U.S. Open leaderboard
Player 1 2 To Par
Stuart Appleby 69 70 -3
Robert Karlsson 70 70 -2
Rocco Mediate 69 71 -2
Tiger Woods 72 68 -2
Notables 1 2 to par
Ernie Els 70 72 Even
Woody Austin 72 72 +2
Phil Mickelson 71 75 +4
Trevor Immelman 75 73 +6
Ryuji Imada 74 75 +7
Angel Cabrera 79 76 +13


Lamielle lives the PGA dream 06/13/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 11:01pm]

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