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Locals grind toward goal of PGA card

It is Tuesday afternoon, and Kyle McCarthy is on his way to the tiny town of Moscow, Pa.

He just found out he is in the field for this week's Nationwide Tour event, the Northeast Pennsylvania Classic, after starting the week as the fifth alternate. That's a lucky break for the Gulfport native, who failed to earn a spot in the Monday qualifier.

McCarthy, 25, is in his second year on the Nationwide Tour, one step down from the PGA Tour. Another week in a hotel room, eating fast food and doing his own laundry, hoping this is finally the week he puts it all together.

"It gets a little expensive," said McCarthy, who has been on the road since mid June. "The money I made in the last couple years and the sponsor money I have, it's running a little dry."

•••

Darron Stiles is also in Moscow, Pa. He's been there since last weekend, after he failed to make the cut at the Xerox Classic in Rochester, N.Y. Stiles, 35, doesn't have to worry about getting into the field. He can play any Nationwide event he wants.

Stiles, who was born in St. Petersburg and attended Gulf High in New Port Richey, travels with his wife and two children during the summer, and they return to their home in Pinehurst, N.C., when school begins. He is sixth on the Nationwide money list with $260,479 earned in 20 events. The top 25 on the money list get PGA Tour cards for the next season. Comfortably in the top 25 with seven events left, Stiles knows he will be in the big leagues next year.

"You could call it comfortable, yes,'' Stiles said. "But I'm still striving to be higher up than I am."

Two different players. Two different outlooks. One common goal.

The veteran

Stiles played college golf at Florida Southern in Lakeland and started on the Nike Tour (now Nationwide) in 1997. He banged around in golf's bush leagues until 2003, his first full season on the PGA Tour. He failed to keep his card but still earned $346,694.

Stiles returned to the PGA Tour in 2005, and spent most of 2006 and '07 on the tour as well. He returns to the PGA in 2009, thanks to a win at the New Zealand PGA Championship, a second at the Fort Smith Classic and three other top-10 finishes.

Stiles is in a good position. He doesn't have to go through the grind of qualifying school, like last year when he didn't leave with a PGA card.

"It wasn't a bummer," Stiles said. "My approach at qualifying school was to have a full card on one of the two tours. Obviously, if it was a PGA Tour card I would've been thrilled to death. Last year, with the state of my game and my head, I was happy to get a full card on any one of the tours.

"Once I locked up a Nationwide Tour card, I knew I was going back to familiar places. I've played well there in the past, so I figured I play well and go back to the PGA Tour the following year."

Stiles has spent more than 10 years grinding away at golf. He has played in front of big galleries on the country's best courses, and he has played in front of sparse galleries on lesser known courses.

He said it is a fine line between the tours.

"In some weeks, I think the competition out here is harder than on the PGA Tour,'' Stiles said. "I think it's harder to make the cuts out here. You've got the same amount of guys for less spots. Out here it seems like you've got to shoot 3 to 5 under to make the cut, whereas on tour you can go from 3 under to maybe 3 or 4 over."

The newcomer

McCarthy has never played in front of the big galleries. He attended Canterbury, then played a year at Eckerd College before turning pro. He started on the Gateway Tour in 2005. Then came the Hooters Tour in 2006 and the beginning of 2007. The rest of last year was spent on the Nationwide Tour.

In December, he went through Q-school and finished 97th, which gave him conditional status on the Nationwide Tour. Some tournaments he is in the field, others he is an alternate or has to Monday qualify.

"This year has been tough,'' McCarthy said. "Last year was good because I started out well and when they reshuffled (tournament qualifications based on the money list) I was good for the rest of the year. This year, I found out I'm in a tournament the week of a number of times."

McCarthy has played in 10 events and missed seven cuts. He has earned only $6,164. He survives on the tour with his own money and sponsorship backing from Nickent, a golf club manufacturer. He is not eligible to play in any of the remaining Nationwide events, but he does plan to Monday qualify for tournaments in Boise, Idaho; and Junction City, Ore.

"It looks as if I'm going to have to win or finish second (to become eligible for future tournaments),'' McCarthy said. "My scores haven't been very good lately. I haven't been able to trust everything when I get on the course. It's fine in practice, but in a tournament I'm not putting it together. It's close, but golfers always say that.''

Like every other player in golf's lower divisions, McCarthy believes he has what it takes to get on the PGA Tour.

"It'll happen,'' he said. "Getting to the Nationwide Tour last year was about one or two years ahead of schedule. I was going to work through mini tours a little longer. Making it all the way was a bonus.''

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com, golf@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.

Locals grind toward goal of PGA card 08/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 8:16pm]

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