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November 5, 2008

De Jonge's huge year on Nationwide Tour almost complete

By: Jimmy Robertson

Brendon de Jonge

Brendon de Jonge came into this year with rather lofty goals.

But not even he could have expected this.

He won his first tournament as a professional. He found out he’s going to be a father for the first time. And thanks to the way he’s played all year, he’ll have plenty of money to pay for the kid’s education.

That’s because de Jonge, a former standout golfer at Tech, ranks at the top of the Nationwide Tour’s money list by more than $40,000 heading into the tour’s final event of the season (the Nationwide Tour Championship at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas on Nov. 6-9th) after playing consistent, if not spectacular, golf all year long. He’s amassed more than $415,000 in earnings, or nearly half of his career earnings since he became a pro back in 2003.

Oh, and there’s one other thing. He locked up his PGA Tour card for the 2009 season – this after losing his card following his debut season on the PGA Tour in 2007.

“It’s been a very rewarding season,” de Jonge said shortly before taking the course to play in the WNB Golf Classic in Midland, Texas, on Oct. 9-12th. “It’s been pretty exciting. I’ve been playing consistent golf all year. That’s been the thing. I really don’t have anything to complain about. I’m happy with where my game is.”

Consistency doesn’t begin to describe his game with justice. He’s played in 27 events so far this year, making the cut in 21 of those. He finished in the top 25 on 15 occasions and the top 10 on nine occasions. He finished in the top three in three tournaments, claiming second place in one and winning the other.

His first career win as a pro came at the Xerox Classic in Rochester, N.Y., on Aug. 14-17th. He blistered the course at 13-under-par, shooting a final-round 69 to win by four strokes over Jarrod Lyle, an Australian who had already won twice and was atop the Nationwide Tour money list at the time.

“Brendon’s too good a player to be hanging around here,” Lyle said in a article. Lyle, like de Jonge, played on the PGA Tour in 2007, but failed to retain his privileges. “We’re both headed to where we belong.”

De Jonge probably knew it was his time to claim top prize when he found himself in the bunker off the tee on the reachable par-4, No. 12. Faced with a horrible buried lie, he blasted out and the ball found the bottom of the cup for an eagle. He recorded pars the rest of the way in to secure his first victory.

“That was very nice,” de Jonge said of his victory. “Obviously, that’s what we all play for. That was big for me. I had given myself a bunch of chances to win, but I’d never been able to finish it. So getting that win was big for me. Plus, it locked up my [PGA Tour] card for me.”

The top 25 money earners on the Nationwide Tour automatically receive their PGA Tour cards for the upcoming season. He won $108,000 for his victory at the Xerox Classic, and that all but assured he would be heading back to the PGA next season.

He hopes to redeem himself after a shaky 2007 on that tour. He played in 26 events, but made the cut just 12 times. He did record two top-10 finishes, and overall, pocketed nearly $450,000.

“It [the PGA Tour] was pretty much what I expected,” de Jonge said. “I played well at the end once I got out of my own way. You’re out there and you’re around all these great golfers, and you can let it overwhelm you. But at the end of the day, it’s still just golf. Once I realized that, I played a lot better.

“In a way, last year was a humbling experience. After the season, I sat down and thought about it, and maybe going back on the Nationwide Tour was the best thing for me. I needed to learn how to win. That was a big thing for me, so in the end, everything has worked out for the best.”

De Jonge credits a ‘tightening’ of all aspects of his game as the key to his success. But a look at the Nationwide Tour stats is quite revealing. He ranks first on the tour in birdies (399), second in putting average (1.736), third in putts per round (28.92) and fifth in birdie average (4.11). As a result, he ranked fourth in scoring average (69.84).

Maybe the old saying ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ rings true.

“Yeah, I’ve putted well, but that can be misleading,” he said. “You have to hit it on the green and close to the hole to putt well and make a bunch of birdies, and I’ve done that.

“I’ve really made it a point to have a good all-around game. The areas I was weak in, I’ve gotten much better. I’ve been very consistent with my game, and if you’re consistent, you’re going to put yourself in position to do well.”

That type of game figures to carry over to the PGA Tour. On the PGA Tour, the crowds are bigger and the money is better than the Nationwide Tour, but other than that, there’s not much of a difference.

“There really isn’t,” de Jonge said. “If you take out the top 15 or 20 golfers on the PGA Tour, then the two are about the same. Both are really competitive.”

“In a way, last year [2007] was a humbling experience. After the season, I sat down and thought about it, and maybe going back on the Nationwide Tour was the best thing for me. I needed to learn how to win. That was a big thing for me, so in the end, everything has worked out for the best.” – Brendon de Jonge

De Jonge hopes to finish the season as the Nationwide Tour’s money leader. That’s the goal, as the season ends in early November. Then, he plans on taking some time off and spending it with his wife, Mary, at the couple’s home in Charlotte. He also hopes to maybe venture to a football game in Blacksburg at some point in November. He and former Tech teammate Johnson Wagner (and Wagner’s wife) both live in Charlotte and both like to get up to Blacksburg at least once every fall for a football game. Both went to the Tech-East Carolina game in Charlotte in late August.

De Jonge, who won medalist honors at the 2003 Big East Championships his senior year and earned second-team All-America honors that season, closely follows Wagner’s career. Wagner, finishing up his second year on the PGA Tour, won for the first time on the PGA Tour this season, but like de Jonge, he started his professional career on the Nationwide Tour, winning two events on that tour in 2006 and ultimately earning his PGA Tour card for the 2007 season.

“His play has really inspired me,” de Jonge said. “He’s been a motivation for me. He hasn’t really given me any flat-out advice, but I’ve learned a lot by watching him over the years. He’s had a little more success than me, but our careers have taken similar paths.

“I’m just going to try and continue what I’ve been doing. My game is good and I’m playing at a high level. I’ve put in the hours and the practice necessary, and I feel like I’m good enough to be on the PGA Tour.”

Time will tell, of course. But no matter what transpires on the golf course, 2009 will get off to a great start for him and his wife once the little one arrives.

That’s one victory in life that will never be surpassed.