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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hooters Tour player Eric Meichtry is keeping his PGA dream alive

Sunday, July 20, 2003

(Photo)
SIKESTON -- The final round of the 2003 Health Facilities Rehab Outpatient Center Classic takes place today at the Bootheel Golf Club.

This afternoon, one lucky golfer will earn $20,000, simply for playing the game he loves.

For most, it seems like a dream job -- getting paid to play golf.

Eric Meichtry would have to agree.

"I didn't enjoy the thought of going to work for somebody," he said. "I've always wanted to work for myself and be able to have a flexible schedule on my terms, not somebody else's."

Meichtry has lived life on his own terms for five years now as a member of the NGA/Hooters Tour. Like every other pro golfer, he has PGA aspirations, and his chance will come in October at qualifying school.

There, he will hope to earn his tour card and join other former Hooters players that have successfully made the jump.

"I've been a part of this tour since '97, and I've played a with a lot of guys that have made it," said Meichtry. "Guys like Chad Campbell, Jason Caron and Bob Heintz...they've had a ton of success on both the Nationwide and PGA tours. You could take the top 25 guys from this tour and put them on the PGA tour and most of them would do well. There is a lot of talent out here."

Until the San Diego resident gets his big break, he will continue to make ends meet by playing Hooters events.

"Just seeing progress in my game is what keeps me going," he said. "If I didn't see my game improve month to month or year to year, it would be time to give it up. But I keep improving, and I still have a passion to play, so it's hard to quit."

Being on the Hooters Tour is one thing. Staying on it for a couple of years is another. With entry fees, hotel rooms, meals and other travel expenses figured in, the risk versus reward for a tour member is relatively high.

"It can cost you $1,200 a week to be out here, and that's a top 25 finish," explained Meichtry. "It's not impossible to do it every week, but you've got to play well. When you're not playing well and miss the cut, it's costing you money to be out here. Even if you make the cut and finish 45th, it's still costing you money. If you don't play well every week, all you're gaining is experience. That's great and all, but it's still not helping your bank account at the time."

Meichtry knows a thing or two about financial troubles on the tour. The last time he was in Sikeston, he was close to calling it quits.

"When we were here in '97, I was down to a thousand bucks," he said. "If I didn't play well here or at the next event, we were out of money and were going home."

Lucky for Meichtry, he did play well, finishing one stroke behind Campbell for second place.

Several others are not as lucky. Of the 119 golfers entered in this week's tournament, just 50 made the cut and will earn a check. The other 69 basically played for free.

"Tour life can be good, but it's not for everybody," said Meichtry. "Most of the guys out here have some kind of financial support, but if you're out here on your own knowing you have to make cuts and make checks, it gets pretty brutal."

Meichtry was somewhat of a late-bloomer to the sport, first picking up a club at the age of 14. The game came fairly easy to him as he went on to win several amateur and college tournaments. He turned pro in 1993, then got married in '94. When he qualified for the Hooters Tour in '96, his wife Angie quit her job as a physical therapy assistant and became Meichtry's full-time caddie.

"She had career goals she was chasing, but the thought of me going out on the road and her staying at home really didn't set well with either one of us," said Meichtry. "We had a little fundraiser golf tournament at my home club, raised about $17,000, packed our bags and hit the road. We had never been east of the Rockies, so coming to all these small towns was kind of a culture shock."

Now Meichtry hopes another lifestyle change is in the near future -- living comfortably as a member of the PGA Tour. What will it take for him to make it through Q-school?

"It's just a matter of playing well," Meichtry explained. "It took Chad Campbell three or four times to get through, and he was one of the better players this tour has ever seen. Then you get John Rollins and other guys that don't have a lot of success on this tour, but get right through (Q-school) on their first try. It's just peaking at the right time."