I love my job.
Not always, mind you, but on nights like last night I realize how lucky I am to do what I do. And how, in 20 years in the sportswriting business I've been able to meet some really cool people.
Back in the fall of 2005, I got to write a story about the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, aka Q-School (also aka Hell Week). I got close to a number of players, including Boo Weekley and Will MacKenzie. But the guy I have followed most closely since that story is a gentle giant named Ryan Hietala. And, here at the Masters, I ran into Ryan and some of his buddies. It was great to see him.
Ryan is a 35-year old Nationwide Tour veteran who earned his PGA Tour card back in 2005 at Q-School. He didn't make enough cuts (or money) on Tour in '05 to keep his card, so it was back to the Nationwide where's been grinding it out for the last couple of years.
Ryan is here at Augusta as a fan this week and will head to Athens, Ga., on Monday for the Nationwide Tour's Athens Regional Foundation Classic, which will be followed by the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta. People who know way more about golf than I do have told me Ryan's got what it takes to be a Tour player. They told me the same thing about Boo Weekley (who played so horribly at 2005 Q-School that I basically wrote him off).
And I can't help but think of how it must feel for Ryan to sit at Augusta (it's his first time here, it's my seventh) and watch players he's rubbed shoulders with compete for the Green Jacket. In fact, at Q-School, I watched Ryan completely outplay Steve Stricker, who happens to be sitting in fourth-place on the Masters leaderboard heading into the final round. "One round at a time," Ryan said to me last night, when I told him he was ready for a Boo Weekley-type breakout.
It's a fine line, for sure...one I hope Ryan can cross in 2009.