2014 Rex Hospital Open: Monday brings opportunity

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Peter Koutroumpis – editor@trianglesportsnet.com

RALEIGH, N.C. – The early stages of the Web.com Tour’s 2014 Rex Hospital Open began on Monday as practice and qualifying rounds took place at TPC at Wakefield Plantation and Benvenue and Wilson Country Clubs respectively.

The Tour pros playing in this week’s tournament arrived in waves to establish their routine – be it hitting balls on the range, putting on the green, playing a practice round, or just getting settled at the TPC club – while 280 others battled for 12 additional Monday-qualifier spots into the 156-player field.

Getting a spot to play this event and others on Tour is a privilege afforded and earned, and many want one but never get the chance to get one.

A sunny and slightly breezy day made for an ideal and subdued atmosphere, particularly for recently qualified winners of the college and junior divisions of the Rex Hospital Open Junior Invitational, Grant Houser and Alex Smalley.

For them, the experience of being on site and amongst so many up-and-coming and experienced professionals was new and different.

They had just begun to learn and understand what the pros do during the week leading up to the first round of play which begins on Thursday.

While the two young amateurs earned their chance – a special exemption to play in the tournament – they weren’t the only ones to get an opportunity extended to them to do so.

David Mathis, a local resident and 17-year PGA and Web.com Tour veteran, earned a sponsor’s exemption into this year’s event.

His situation highlights the challenge that exists in playing well on a weekly basis and how the opportunities that exist to play on Tour can disappear, and rather quickly.

While Houser and Smalley will be able to go back to playing as amateurs while developing their games to maybe one day play on Tour, they will learn more about the fact that making it has become hard, and so has staying there.

Case in point is Mathis, who has worked to get his career back on track after losing his PGA card last season.

As a result of losing his status and with how the current reshuffling system to regain it works, he had to play two Web.com events earlier in the season while rehabbing a ruptured bicep tendon injury at the same time.

It was a situation he endured and continues to do so because he has to.

That is why he will take full advantage of the opportunity he has to play in the Rex Hospital Open this week.

He is taking it seriously and appreciates it accordingly.

“It’s been an interesting year I guess you could say,” Mathis said.

“After playing the last three years on the PGA Tour and then coming back and needing a sponsor exemption at this event is a little weird. But I’m thankful to (tournament director) Carson Gilbert , Rex, and David Strong, CEO of the hospital, to give me a spot, so I can be playing at home and sleeping in my own bed.”

He hasn’t played in many events and has not had the finishes he needs to get back to the level he wants; and it only seems to be getting harder.

“Trying to get it all together, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“When you’re playing on the PGA Tour and playing in any event you want to play in, you’re not even thinking about what someone is going through like what I’m in right now. But now that I’m in this spot, I look at it and it’s been a real eye-opener.”

It seems that regardless of whether its two amateurs who will be wide-eyed in teeing it up in their first professional event or a seasoned veteran whose eyes have been opened more to the realities of what staying on tour really entails, they have all gotten a chance to prove themselves.

Sometimes that’s all you need – a chance.