STAMFORD, Conn. – Mike Ballo Jr.’s first attempt to qualify for the professional golf tour did not go as well as he had hoped. The 25-year-old Stamford golfer still believe he’s on the right path, however, and that his dedication will ultimately be rewarded.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,’’ Ballo said after playing six rounds on the Web.com Tour’s qualifying tournament earlier this month in La Quinta, Calif. “It will make every other event I play in a little less intense. I’ll have some chances on the Web.com Tour on a conditional status. I’ll have to make the best of them.”
Ballo finished 120th in a field of 150. The goal on the Web.com Tour qualifying, which is a steppingstone to the PGA Tour, is to earn exemption for many events as possible. The top 10 players are exempt for the first 12 events of the season.
With a conditional status, Ballo said he will most likely get to play in one of the Web.com’s first five events. If he plays well enough there, he could get into the top 50 of the Tour and earn his way into more tournaments.
Ballo seemed poised several times to make a run toward the Top 10 at the qualifier. He opened with a one-over-par 73, hardly a dagger round in a six-round event. In the second round, he was 6-over-par with eight to play when he played the final five holes in five-under-par for another 73.
He could not sustain the momentum in the third round, shooting 74, and fought back with a 69 in the fourth round to move up substantially. But with so many talented players in the field, it was awfully hard for Ballo to climb even higher. He finished with rounds of 74 and 70.
“I was playing OK, the ball just wasn’t finding the bottom of the cup,’’ Ballo said. “Golf’s hard enough. It’s especially hard when you know you have to shoot a really low number. It’s not the greatest mindset to have. I don’t play my best with a number in my head. It was a constant uphill battle.”
Ballo said the conditions were almost too good. “I was laying in bed thinking I’d like the wind to blow 20 mph,’’ he said. “When there’s no wind, it’s like you’re playing mini golf. It feels like you’re playing in a dome.”
He has been a professional golfer since he left St. John’s, where he had a terrific collegiate career. He has had a lot of financial and emotional support from members of Woodway Country Club in Darien, where his father, Mike Sr., was the longtime head professional.
So far, his professional career has been a methodical step-by-step climb up the ladder. There’s still a long way to go. But Ballo is improving each year. Just reaching the Web.com qualifying tournament is an arduous process.
He will play in Jupiter, Fla., through the winter and return to Connecticut for summer tournaments in the region. He also expects to sign a deal with Cleveland Golf, one of the nation’s top clubmakers. He also has signed with an agent.
The professional golf lifestyle can be tough, putting in hours of fitness work, practice and play for little financial reward. It can take years of grinding, and many players won’t even make it. Ballo believes he will.
“That week built a lot of belief in myself in terms of belonging,’’ he said. “I just have to believe that I can keep doing that, tighten everything up and I’ll be fine. It’s the same battle that every pro golfer has had.”