Quest for golf leads to lessons in life

Weekly summer thoughts …

Jon Fitzgerald swears this was not a midlife crisis, that he did not arrive at a period of uncertainty hoping to prevent the inevitability of aging.

He just wanted to confront the challenge.

He got much more than that.

How is this for a quest: Fitzgerald is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who upon turning 40 nearly 21/2 years ago began his pursuit of becoming a professional golfer, a journey chronicled in the documentary “The Back Nine.”

He began with a 15-handicap, a guy who lived as a child overlooking a course in Palm Springs and played some for his high school team. He began with a wife, a 7-year-old daughter, a son on the way and a mortgage to pay from what he earned in his production company.

It was like a 40-year-old cellist who played in a local symphony hoping to one day compete alongside Yo-Yo Ma. Early in the film, a handful of celebrities are asked what they think of Fitzgerald’s goal.

“It’s absolutely not possible,” one said. “He will fail miserably.”

Thanks for the input, Meat Loaf.

Fitzgerald’s idea was that if he surrounded himself with a team of experts — a swing coach, a fitness coach, a nutrition coach, a mental coach — while searching for sponsors and not drowning from the mounting debt of such a venture, he could make major strides toward playing professionally.

Even while he worked 100-hour weeks helping to raise a family and provide for it.

What happened in golf was surprise enough. Fitzgerald over the course of filming lowered his handicap to 4 and won his first tournament on the Golf Channel’s Amateur Tour. He even qualified for the tour’s national championship, but work obligations didn’t allow him to play.

But more than anything, the film depicts Fitzgerald’s development as a man who grew up with two distinctly different male figures — a biological father who introduced him to the game and a stepfather who advocated a more academic approach.

“I think (the film) really showed me two things,” Fitzgerald said. “First, it is possible to improve your game greatly if you have the right program and are surrounded by the right team and find a way to put in the time. I never knew I would enjoy competing this much. I learned how much I thrive on that.

“But as time went on, the personal journey became more and more important than the golf. I was able to reconnect with my own father figures and recognize what improvements should be made in my own opportunity as a father and husband.

“It’s cliche to say the journey is more important than the ending. But nothing is more clear to me than that now.”

Thing is, nothing has ended. Fitzgerald continues to play on the amateur tour and chronicle it through film, hoping a sequel (or two, or three, or four) will one day prove that those who chase dreams can indeed realize them. That in less than 10 years’ time from beginning the journey, he will be teeing off as a professional.

“Call it blindness, call it overconfidence or denial,” he said. “I believe I can do it.

“I certainly plan on proving Meat Loaf wrong.”

“The Back Nine” will show in 85 theaters nationally on Thursday, including locally at the Brenden Las Vegas 14 and the Rave Las Vegas 18. …

I will root for Phil Mickelson to make a charge today, because of the times I have met his wife, Amy, there is not a more genuine and kind person surrounded by celebrity. …

Thought about renting “Dead Alive” for a Saturday evening movie but realized if I wanted to see blood and gore, I could just flip the channel and look at Clay Guida’s face. …

Saw this headline Sunday: “Judge to consider sentencing Jayson Williams.” Probably a good thing. After all, since being convicted for covering up a fatal shooting in 2002 and awaiting a retrial on reckless manslaughter, all the former NBA star has done is be shot with a stun gun by police during a hotel room altercation, arrested and charged for assault in a bar fight and had his wife file for divorce and cite he was abusive and had a drug problem. If this guy doesn’t do some time quickly, we can surmise only one thing: He went and hired Donte Stallworth’s attorney. …

I’m not sure which is more difficult to understand — a Confederations Cup tiebreaker or “Finnegans Wake.” I do know the U.S. soccer team next meets European champion Spain in one semifinal, meaning the Americans’ only chance is if Pau Gasol and Ricky Rubio suddenly take to playing midfield for Spain. …

Final thought: Best gift on Father’s Day came from my 7-year-old daughter, Bridget. She inserted my face on a picture of Gasol. “Now,” she said, “you know what it’s like to be tall and have lots of hair.”

Somehow, I knew I would regret teaching her the importance of honesty.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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