On the first two days of events at the John Deere Classic, Northbrook resident and Illinois senior Nick Hardy got a glimpse into the life of a professional golfer.
After playing in Monday's pro-am at TPC Deere Run with a collection of course superintendents from Chicago's North Shore, Hardy took part in the tournament's First Tee Lunch & Learn on Tuesday.
In the field on a sponsor exemption, the 21-year-old Hardy said he's thankful for the experience. Although he's played in two U.S. Opens -- making the cut at Chambers Bay in 2015 -- this week's event will be Hardy's first on the PGA Tour, where he's wanted to play since he was 9.
"Not too many college players get the opportunity to do what I am doing here," he said. "I'm here to see how I stack up against the best competition. I know I have work to do, and I'm still a year or so removed from being a pro. Right now, I am an amateur who will be playing against a bunch of pros who are proven."
Lounging in a leather chair in the air-conditioned men's locker room after a steamy 18 holes Monday, Hardy talked about his future. He said he will be back in Champaign for his senior year, and he has no timetable on when he will turn pro or the road he will take once he does.
"No idea," he said.
When pressed, Hardy doubled down.
"No plan at all," the 2014 Glenbrook North graduate maintained.
That's what Illinois men's golf coach Mike Small wants to hear.
"My biggest thing is I don't want them thinking about that," said Small, who has a track record for producing successful pros. "I want him to stay in the present, to be the best amateur he can be. It's a mistake when college kids start thinking about turning pro too early. It's not something we've even talked about."
Brett Packee, Hardy's longtime instructor, said his star pupil is "in a good spot, a great place, really."
"He has too many things to keep him grounded as an amateur," said Packee, a PGA professional who teaches out of Highland Park's Northmoor Country Club. "For one, he wants to win the NCAA team title. Not to mention, there is so much stuff that can happen over the next 9-12 months that is hard to predict. What's great about him is he has a great head on his shoulders."
Hardy looked like he belonged among the pros at Deere Run. On Tuesday, he shared the stage with Elmhurst resident and five-time PGA Tour winner Mark Wilson at the Lunch & Learn and planned to play a practice round with former Fighting Illini Steve Stricker, a 12-time PGA Tour winner who won three straight Deere Classics in 2009-11.
Over the years, Hardy has played practice rounds with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and two-time major winner Zach Johnson.
"For Nick, it's golf, even if it's on the PGA Tour," Packee said.
Monday and Tuesday showed Hardy that being a PGA Tour player is more than teeing it up on Thursdays. There are pro-ams to play and youth clinics to host. But John Hardy said his son accepts all that goes into being a pro golfer.
"At the NCAAs (in May at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove), he made a triple bogey on the 18th," John Hardy said. "I know he was upset with himself coming off of that green. But there were a bunch of kids who wanted autographs, and he stood there and signed them all."
Nick Hardy isn't expecting golf to be an easy job. Several of his former college teammates now are pros, including Brian Campbell, Charlie Danielson and Thomas Detry. He regularly talks to Danielson about the life.
"It's a grind, especially for someone who has no status on any tour," Nick Hardy said. "You can play in Kansas one week and Massachusetts the next and not know that until the week of. That can wear on you. You also hear of players missing 17 straight cuts and winning. There are going to be ups and downs in this sport. It's about staying resilient. Obviously, there is going to be stress when you're on your own and have to worry about playing well. Then, you throw in a wife and a kid or two, and it's gets tougher.
"But I have great people around me, people who want to help me and support me. I am very lucky."
This article is written by Matt Harness from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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