Hard Werk Plays Golf

“Hard Werk Plays Golf”. A web designer’s funny take on the saying, “Hard work pays off.” But in this case it’s more than just a gimmicky saying, it’s a statement about who Tom is and where he came from. Tom turns 50 on March 8, 2018 and will, at that time, also turn the page on 4 decades of playing amateur golf into what he hopes will be the next chapter in an already successful golf career, he will officially begin his career as a Senior PGA tour professional. But how did he get here and what makes a man who was always telling people he would NEVER become a professional golfer, suddenly decide that was exactly what he was going to do? What had to happen to bring him to that decision? Well I think I can tell you…and I hope you enjoy my story.

My name is Leslie Werkmeister. I’ve been married to Tom for 20 years come April 3, 2018. I’ve watched Tom play for almost half his life and during that time I’ve had the pleasure of riding a rollercoaster of emotions both as a wife and as a caddy; all while watching the man I love do what he does best – play golf. Many times I’ve been asked how I deal with all of the golf, all the time he spends on his first love. I’ve been called “patient” and a “great wife”. Unfortunately, I’ve never been called a “great caddy”. There are certainly some funny stories of me quitting my caddy job mid-round (funny in hindsight – not so funny at the time), but I’m happy to be finally relinquishing my duties to another, more qualified caddy. I think my new role as “protector of the happy place” is a much better fit for me anyway! I’ll also be the one who keeps anyone who’s interested, up-to-date on Tom’s journey via a blog on this website. I hope to be able to be a source of information as well as provide readers with a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the grind; both for him and our family.

Tom began his love affair with golf at the age of 7, although his love of sports began well before then. As a very young boy, he was preoccupied with balls; baseballs, basketballs, footballs, tennis balls…golf balls. It was only a matter of time before his Dad (also Tom) introduced him to his favorite game…golf. Tom & his Dad (who was a scratch golfer in his time) enjoyed their time together on the golf course and what started as father-son outings, soon grew to full-blown practice sessions. He loved the game so much he even would ask his Mom to go golfing with him! Then, when Tom was 12, his parents purchased a cottage outside of Gladwin, Michigan in a development that had access to several lakes and a golf course. Their cottage was right on the golf course. The family spent most of their Summer weekends and vacation time at their cottage & Tom spent most of his time there on the golf course. Now I don’t know about you, but my family had a cottage also, (11 miles down the road from Tom’s in fact) that was on a lake an across the street from the State forest – and if you’d have given me a choice of how to spend my time as a kid; on the golf course or in the lake – you can bet I chose the lake! Who wants to spend their time in the sun all day, sweating and being all hot & stuff when you can be swimming all day in a lake?!? Tom. He played as often as he could; sunup to sundown. He got so good that he started playing in (and winning) the club championship there. He won it so many times in fact, that they changed the rules to exclude players who were not full-time residents…and it was rumored that was specifically to exclude Tom!

At the same time Tom was competing on the high school golf team during the school year at home. He was all-state in high school and competed in regional tournaments as well. His coach tells me he always knew Tom had a special talent. Tom graduated from Warren Mott high school in Warren, Michigan in 1986 & Coach Barnett still follows Tom’s success to this day…always proud of his high school prodigy.

Tom was not an academic in any sense of the word and he really cared only about golf. Because of that, he turned down offers to several big colleges to attend Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan where he continued his competitive golf career. He was an All-American during his brief time at MCC, but when he turned 19, life took him in another direction. He left college to move to Grand Rapids, Michigan with his sister & brother-in-law, to help them open the 1st Hungry Howies franchise location in West Michigan. He was very busy at that time trying to work and earn a living to support himself away from home. Golf took a backseat for a time to that nasty 4-letter word, “work” (the one spelled with an “O” of course).

Finally, in 1995, Tom began competing in some of the local tournaments. His success, however, was limited. He played in quite a few events, finishing just short of the win. He even became known as the “best golfer in West Michigan never to have won a Major” (the local golf association ran quite a few events but highlighted 4 events they deemed “Majors” that attracted the best of the best in the area). He seemed to be stuck at a plateau. That’s where I come in (cue sappy love song). Tom & I met in 1997. Tom was 29 and living a bachelor’s life of work, golf & bowling (another sport he excels at). We married less than a year later. I have 2 kids from my previous marriage so when Tom told me up front that he liked to golf, “no, I mean I golf A LOT”, I was unimpressed and hardly concerned. I had 2 young kids to care for & was trying to get past a failed marriage with problems that made his love of golf look like a cake walk. We were exactly what each other needed…truly a gift from God for one-another. I focused my time keeping the kids busy & cared for while he honed his golf game. The kids & I would take him to a tournament, drop him off & pick him up afterwards. Life was good just as it was; but this is where the story gets good.

In 2000, Tom qualified for his first USGA event, the US Amateur. While he didn’t make the match play, he did learn a lot about his game & his potential. In 2001 Tom’s buddy John talked us into joining The Highlands Golf Course in NW Grand Rapids, a great 100-year-old Donald Ross course that boasted a handful of good, young scratch golfers as members. It was during that time, through playing with and against those golfers, as well as with the support of friends, club members and family, that Tom really started to get back into his competitive mode. That year he finally broke through & won the West Michigan Amateur, the City Championship, finished runner-up at the Kent County Amateur and finished 3rd at The Michigan Open. It seemed he was on his way, but really, he was just warming up.

The next few years Tom spent competing locally, mostly, with the notable exception of qualifying again for the US Amateur in 2002, and again not making the match play. He managed to be successful enough locally to be invited to play in the Michigan Medal Play/Horton Smith Championship contested at Detroit Golf Club – a tournament that drew the best of the best amateur players in Michigan and who’s invite is coveted by all the rest of the amateurs who weren’t so lucky to receive an invite. In 2005 Tom won the Michigan Medal Play/Horton Smith tournament, which even to this day ranks as one of his favorite wins. In 2006 Tom became more focused on Statewide and USGA events; starting with qualifying for the US Mid-Amateur, a tournament limited to players age 26 and older. It seemed he found his “sweet spot” competing against players who were more like himself; working and playing – rather than college kids who did nothing but play (professional amateurs as they were called). He would focus on being the best mid-amateur.

For most of the early 2000’s, Tom won most everything he competed in locally. His list of local championship wins was growing. He was in the top 10 on the Golf Association of Michigan’s (GAM) Honor Roll in 2006 and qualified in 2007 to play in the USGA State Team tournament, representing Michigan with 2 other amateur players against teams from every State in the Country. However, there was one local championship win that eluded him; the City Match-Play Championship. Match Play seemed to be his achilles heel at that time and it was what stood between him and success at the national level. Then, in 2008, something clicked and he managed to make it to the semifinals in the State Amateur tournament (which is a match-play format). It was that year he also began playing in the State Mid-Amateur tournament – and won his first State title doing so.

Then, in 2009, he won the Michigan State Amateur – a win that took Tom from local champion to State champion and set him up for the following years. You see, Tom had to “learn to win” at each level of his competitiveness. From winning at a local level and eventually being comfortable there, to winning at a State level and being comfortable in his abilities to do so. He also won the Horton Smith Championship again in 2009 as well as his 2nd Michigan Mid-Amateur Championship. He again qualified for the USGA State Team tournament, finishing 14th overall as an individual and won the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) Player of the year honors. He truly was learning how to compete and win at this new level. He had now won every local and State event he played in except for 3; the City Match Play Championship, the GAM Championship and the Michigan Open Championship. While it might not seem like much considering everything else he’d won, those elusive wins held the key to what was in his mind as the doors to the next level – he just didn’t know it yet.

Finally, in 2010, he checked off one more accomplishment. He won the City Match Play Championship. He also went on to win that tournament the next 5 out of 7 years. He also was invited to another prestigious amateur event – the Sunnehanna Invitational in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. This was a tournament that he’d only dreamed of being invited to, that he was now going to be able to compete in. While it wasn’t run by the USGA, it had a long history of players that read like the who’s-who of the PGA Tour. Then later in that year Tom qualified & for the first time, made the cut in the US Mid-amateur. It seemed match play was beginning to make sense to him and he knew what it took to be successful in that form of competition.

2013 was probably the most exciting year of Tom’s amateur career to date. That year, Tom completed the “Grand Slam” of local tournaments; winning every major our City golf association held in the same year. He also won the Michigan State Open as an amateur which was a huge accomplishment as the last amateur to do so was 38 years prior. He beat out many notable amateur players as well as professional players for that honor. He also won the State Mid-Amateur again, for a record 5th time. While Tom was quite proud of his accomplishments that year, there was still one more out there for him and he set his sights on winning it. The GAM Championship had eluded him for the last 6 years, finishing in the top 10 since 2007 and finishing in 3rd place in 2013. For some reason, that tournament seemed to be out of his reach.

In 2014 Tom earned his place into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. As the youngest inductee, Tom was honored by his peers at a dinner where his accomplishments were recognized as something very few others (if any) had achieved. However, competitively that year, his patience was challenged. Coming off an incredible year in 2013 his expectations for his game were quite high. He managed to win 2 of the 4 local majors, but finished poorly (by his standards) in the other 2. However, his hard work and persistence paid off when he had his best finish in 2 USGA events; at the USGA State Team Tournament he finished 4th overall individual and at the USGA Mid-Amateur he made it all the way to the Semi-Finals, losing on the 19th hole to the eventual champion.

Fast-forward to 2016 and the year that changed everything. Once again Tom won 2 of the 4 local majors, but finished well in the other 2. He finished 5th in the Michigan Open and opted not to play in the State Amateur as we were moving into our new home that week. It wasn’t shaping up to be a special year for him by any stretch of the imagination…until the GAM Championship. After playing in that tournament for 10 years, he finally won! All the waiting, all the hoping, all the hard work paid off! He won the final, elusive State tournament! I can tell you, because I caddied for him, it was probably the best feeling he’d experienced winning a tournament. So many years of waiting and being the proverbial “bridesmaid” and he was finally the “bride”! While the GAM Championship isn’t what many would call the “best” tournament in the State, that year it was to him. He also played on the USGA State Team for what would be the last time (the USGA stopped holding that tournament) and he and his 2 teammates won! Tom finished as individual medalist as well. He also was medalist at the USGA Mid-Amateur tournament, setting the course record during qualifying (unfortunately he signed an incorrect scorecard and never was recognized for the course record). He lost in the round of 16 that year, but was pleased with his accomplishments.

At the end of 2016, as he looked back on his golf career, and ultimately forward, he made the decision that brings us to the reason I’m writing this story. He’d won everything he’d set out to win, with the exceptions of the USGA Amateur and the USGA Mid-Amateur. He was 48 years old and found himself in unfamiliar territory…wondering what was next? A casual discussion with a close golf-friend, lead him to make the decision that it was finally the right time to take his golf game to the next level again. He had the perfect situation unfolding in front of him. He would be 49 years old next golf season. As an amateur he had to be 55 to compete in any Senior tournaments. As a professional, he could compete in Senior tournaments at the age of 50. In addition, he could take his shot at Qualifying School (Q-School) at the age of 49, as well as compete in some professional mid-senior events that are held down South. That meant there was a “window” of 5 years that he could take a shot at competing as a Senior Professional Golfer while he waited to be old enough to compete as a Senior Amateur Golfer. It was late in 2016 that Tom decided he would leave Amateur golf after the season in 2017 to become a Professional Golfer and take his shot at the PGA Champions Tour.

I can tell you that you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when he told me he’d made that decision! I’d spent the last 20 years telling people when they asked why he didn’t turn pro, that there was NO WAY he was ever going to be a professional golfer. “It would ruin the game for him”, I’d tell people, “competing for money changes the game – he doesn’t want to turn it into a job” I would say. If I had a dime for every time I told people that we’d already be rich. However, deep down, this is exactly where I knew Tom should be. You see, I’ve always known that when Tom plays his game, the game God gave him when his brain doesn’t get in the way, no-one can beat him. Tom has a God-given talent that makes golf look incredibly easy when he plays. However, I also knew that just because I knew he could do it, didn’t mean he knew he could do it…so I never brought it up. So, when Tom told me he wanted to become a professional golfer, there was no doubt in my mind that he could be successful doing it. I’d watched him for 20 years slowly, methodically win his way through every level of amateur golf he’d competed in. And while he didn’t win the USGA Mid-Amateur, he was satisfied that it was just a matter of time before that would happen as well. The thing is, he wasn’t getting any younger and attempting to make it on the Senior PGA Tour wasn’t going to get easier. No, this was the right time, and the fact that he has several successful businessmen behind him helps make this dream a reality.

All along the way, Tom has had the support of friends and family and even complete strangers. While ultimately his success rides in his God-given talent, a large part of it certainly depends upon the support system we have around us. It is for this reason that we created this website; to both keep his sponsors informed of his progress as well as to provide our family & friends with a way to “come along on the ride” with us if you will…because while we would love nothing better than to have our support group with us at every tournament, obviously that just can’t happen. In light of that, I will do my best to keep this site up-to-date and write something, even if just a short blurb, during & after each of his tournaments.