Mini-tour owners take a big swing at assisting aspiring young golfers
By Tod Leonard
SAN DIEGO – Golden State Golf Tour owner Mike O'Leary was looking for worthy charitable causes.
Roger Porzak believed he had a great idea for underserved youth golfers that needed a financial boost to get off the ground.
O'Leary and Porzak knew each other as acquaintances, from the days when Roger's son, Adam, played on the Golden State Tour. They reconnected late last year, and the more they talked, the more enthused they became. Their needs and passions seemed to mesh perfectly.
"Let's make this happen," O'Leary remembers telling Porzak. "We need to start somewhere."
That "somewhere" was in Santee on Monday afternoon. At Carlton Oaks Golf Club, the Golden State Tour hosted a pro-am in advance of its 54-hole tournament that will be played Tuesday through Thursday. It is one of the tour's best-attended events, with around 100 players, because it falls just before the PGA Tour Canada qualifying tournament, also at Carlton next week.
The benefitting organization for the pro-am was Links Fore Life, the non-profit that Roger Porzak has formed to provide lessons for aspiring junior golfers whose parents might not otherwise be able to pay for instruction.
Monday's event included rounds of golf with top Golden State pros, a dinner and silent auction. Porzak hoped to earn between $10,000 and $20,000 to be used to stage Links Fore Life's first large-scale youth clinic, scheduled for May 14 at Carlton Oaks.
"I'm so passionate about this, and I think this has legs," said Porzak, the immediate past president of the San Diego County Junior Golf Association.
Porzak said the idea for Links Fore Life came about a couple of years ago, when the Porzak Academy at Carlton Oaks – led by former Junior Ryder Cup player and SDSU alum Adam Porzak – held a clinic for East County high schools. Many of the golfers were beginners, but there was one boy and his beautiful swing, Winston Lau, who caught Roger Porzak's attention.
Porzak asked Lau who coached him. "YouTube," was the reply. He asked why he hadn't seen Lau compete in SDJGA. The boy said his parents couldn't afford to enter him.
"That was the inspiration," Porzak said. "I went home that night and talked to Adam about it, and said, 'We've got to do something about this.' "
Adam Porzak and his partner in the academy, Mike Pitt, are happily swamped with business. Roger Porzak enlisted the help of Carlton Oaks PGA Head Professional Chris Brown and Stadium Golf instructor Matt Nokes. Both have committed to doing lessons at a discounted rate for Links Fore Life participants.
The May 14 clinic will help the group identify kids who have the potential to be aided by Links Fore Life. For those who complete the application process, there will be a curriculum, Porzak said, that will include at least eight hours of instruction.
"We want these kids to start having fun and not be as frustrated by the game," Porzak said. "Let's get them playing, and then who knows what comes out of it?"
Links Fore Life came at a perfect time in the evolution of the Golden State Tour, O'Leary said. With the PGA and Web.com tours as models, O'Leary transitioned the GST into a non-profit in 2010. He admits that the tour didn't do much charitable work in the first few years, but began to initiate more effort last year.
This year, O'Leary said, four of the first five tour events of the season have included some form of a pro-am that benefitted a local organization.
"This year feels like we're coming of age as a tour," said O'Leary, an insurance broker who lives in Fallbrook. "This is a year of transition in the mentality of the tour. We've said to the players, 'Here is where we want to be,' and they've responded."
Formed in the early 1980s, the Golden State has been among the nation's most competitive mini-tours. Its primary purpose was never to provide a living for players – the current leading money winner has earned $9,000 in two events – but to be a place for a golfer to figure out if he had enough game to make it to the next level.
In the past, O'Leary said, players showed up, paid their entry fee, and took away whatever earnings they made. He said he's trying to get the golfers more involved in their communities and more in touch with the people who might be willing to provide them with financial support.
O'Leary said that at this year's tournament at DeAnza Country Club in Borrego Springs, a member chipped in $10,000 for the purse – and that's not tax-deductable.
"I told him that," O'Leary said. "And he didn't care."
O'Leary has taken a "less is more" approach with the tour itself. There are eight multi-day tournaments on the schedule this year and far fewer single-day events.
"The more I listened to the players, the more of what they wanted was longer, full-field field events," O'Leary said. "They wanted to feel like they were on the road, stay in a hotel, have a practice round, have a cut line, and have the opportunity to make a decent amount of money."
In other words, feel like they were being better prepared for the big leagues.
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.