Alex Feeman was fed up.
Working for a local insurance behemoth, the 27-year-old Amherst resident was, in his own words, “not living the life that I wanted to live.”
So he is doing what most of us only dream of.
He quit his job to play golf, but not just one round, or even a weekend of 36 holes to blow off some steam, though.
Instead, Feeman plans to throw the clubs in the trunk of his ’09 Volkswagen Jetta and set out on a life-changing journey. In a few short weeks, he’ll embark on a cross-country road trip to play 49 rounds of golf in 49 days across the 48 contiguous states and District of Columbia.
He plans to chronicle his journey on a blog, golfing49in49.wordpress.com, and with updates on his Twitter account,
For the past five-plus years, Feeman had worked in the claims department at a major automobile insurance company in Amherst. While the pay was good, the work left him wanting more.
“It felt like I was living my life according to some undefined set of rules,” he said. “I was very, very stressed out at work, and wasn’t sure it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like my future was running out.
“The only thing that I ever really did that I wanted to do was golf – even though I’m not a very good golfer. I’m just an average player.”
When he was in high school and college, Feeman’s love of golf was matched by a passion for writing. That comes across in his blog. The first few entries explain his motivation for the trip – which will begin on either the first or second Sunday in July – in tones that are at times humorous, poignant and thought provoking (warning: some not-safe-for-work language is also used).
Take, for example, this passage, which explains his frustrations with work: “At 27, I hadn’t done substantial or meaningful writing in five years. I rarely read, and gave only a passing glance to the news. I gained 60 pounds. It’s as if I gave up on life, and really let myself go.
“By the time I got home I didn’t really want to do any of those things I used to thrive on. I became really good at lying on the couch like a beached whale watching sports and drinking beer. I didn’t touch my guitar for months and never played my drums. I was living in a wasteland, and I really hated what I had become.”
When an annual summer vacation with friends to baseball parks across the country had to be scrapped this year, Feeman reached his tipping point.
“I knew that my future was running out,” he said. “After 27, you’re 30. Then you’re 35. Next thing you know, you’re old and your youth has run out. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I had to get out of there.”
Feeman said the idea “just floated into my head” to play a round of golf in each state.
“I have a lot of wanderlust. I love traveling. I love driving, which I’m going to have to love to do this trip, and I can write about it,” he said. “It started out as a very personal thing, sort of the impetus for a new life.”
Feeman started playing golf at the age of 12 – not of his own volition. His mother signed him up for a junior golf program in their hometown of Lebanon, Pa.
“I was really opposed to playing the game,” he said.
Again from his blog, he explains why: “I showed up that first day lacking a single golf club or a sense of what I was supposed to say or do. Looking at the other kids and their parents’ cars, I felt really out of place. … All the other kids looked the part, at least in my eyes. I tucked my shirt in because my mom said I had to – these kids tucked their shirts in because they wanted to.”
But by the end of that first lesson, he was hooked.
Once more, from the blog: “I had seen the beauty of this game. I immediately recognized that, above all, the golf swing is an exercise in precision. However, there was also a rawness about the instructor’s swing, there was an obvious urge to mash. Power, too, I found out, was an exciting element of the game. I was hooked, whether I fit in or not.”
The love of the game was nurtured over countless rounds at Fairview Golf Course in Lebanon, just a few hundred yards from his childhood home, many with his father, Dave.
Feeman didn’t play for his high school team – “I wasn’t good enough, “ he said – but enjoyed the game for what it was: A bonding experience with family and friends, and a chance to escape the stress that sometimes consumed him.
He majored in history at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a 3.99 grade-point average. He moved to Buffalo at 22 to attend graduate school at UB, but lasted only a semester before deciding it wasn’t for him.
He then started working at the same job he held until May 31. The decision to leave was met with applause from his co-workers.
“My friends all thought it was a fantastic idea,” he said with a laugh. “They were happy for me. They thought it was something that fit me. They know I’m a little bit of a free spirit. I can do all these things that I couldn’t do working at an insurance company.”
But there was still the matter of telling his parents. Feeman said he considered waiting until midway through the trip before breaking the news, but then thought better of it.
“I didn’t want to give them heart attacks,” he said. “They were the last people I called. My dad was distraught in the first five minutes. I’m an only child. He only has a high school diploma and has worked in factories most of his life. He was very proud that his only son got a college degree and was having a better life than he did.”
Feeman, though, talked to his father for an hour about his reasons for making the trip, and that he came around.
As for his mother, Rose, she was little bit tougher of a sell.
“She’s always had tremendously high expectations for me, and if I told her I quit work to do this, I thought she was going to go absolutely crazy,” he said. “I struggled with how I was going to tell her, so I just did it like a Band-Aid. I said, ‘Hey mom, I quit my job and I’m going to travel around the country playing golf.’ I didn’t give her a chance to respond and just talked for like 10 minutes straight.”
The reaction on the other end was silence.
“For like, 30 seconds,” Feeman said. “I’m like, ‘Mom, are you still there? Do I need to call an ambulance?’ She was really not receptive at first, but I talked to her the next day, and I think she figured out it was something I really wanted to do. As much as she doesn’t want to say it to my face, she ultimately is happy for me.”
Feeman isn’t making the trip just for himself. He hopes to make it a charitable endeavor, as well.
He has an agreement in place to help raise funds for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
“I struggled with that ever since I was child. The first time I was in therapy, I was 9 years old,” he said. “A lot of my friends struggled with it. I think it’s an increasing problem given the pace and pressures of the digital age. Things move an incredible amount faster now than they did even 20 years ago. It’s just a lot for young people to all take in. There’s this huge stigma that comes with those conditions, and that’s why I wanted to support them.”
Feeman had wanted to leave June 30, but has been delayed slightly in finalizing similar agreements with other charitable organizations. Once that process is complete, people will be able to donate through PayPal by clicking the “support” page on his blog. Those interested can choose to help Feeman with the cost of his trip, donate to the charity of their liking, or make a single donation to do both, with 25 percent of the money going to the trip and 75 percent being split across the final participating charities. A description of the available options will also be available soon on the “support” page.
Feeman, who as you can guess is single (what wife would sign up for this?), has been able to save enough money for the cost of the trip over the past five years. He’s budgeted about $60 a night for lodging, and will save money by staying with friends or crashing in his car from time to time along the way.
“Before I quit, I looked at the bank account and did the budget about three times,” he said. “If I don’t get a single donation, I can still pay for the trip. I can still travel the whole country, blog about it, have an amazing experience. I’d rather not, though. I’d rather get some donations to help with that.”
Feeman plays about 50 rounds a year now – twice a week during the season – and currently maintains an 11.2 handicap.
“It’s hovered between 8.5 when I’m at my best and 13 or 14 when I’m not playing so well,” he said.
His first round will be in Batavia on a Sunday with friends, then he’ll drive to Vermont to begin in earnest. In his most recent blog post, he mapped out his entire 10,000-mile route, which he estimates will take 172 hours of driving time.
While the entire journey will take 49 days, there are several days in which he plans to play 36 holes. That will give him time for travel, to write, and to guard against potential pitfalls like weather or car problems.
“I’m going to get really tired,” he said. “I’ve played 36 holes in a day numerous times, but there’s a couple times on the trip where I’m scheduled to do that three days in a row. That’s grueling.”
In mapping out his route, Feeman selected mid-size cities that would offer a decent combination of available golf courses to choose from that fit into his budget, which is for about $40 a round. He plans on sticking with mostly municipal courses but will go over budget in California to play at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
“I did want to work one round in somewhere on a beautiful, gorgeous, amazing course,” he said. “It’s very expensive, but it’s not expensive like Pebble Beach. I have some friends in San Diego and they said as a single player, it’s not that hard to get on. You show up, get in the bag line and they’ll get you on somewhere, so that’s the course I’m most looking forward to.”
Feeman said in a perfect world, he’d play about half the rounds by himself, and half paired with others.
“Solo rounds are going to be key, because with a cart, you can finish in 2 or 2 ½ hours,” he said. “That’s going to be crucial. But, of course, part of the fun is going to be meeting up with people in another part of the country, playing golf with them. That’s part of the charm of public golf.”
The final state in which Feeman will play is Pennsylvania. On Day No. 49, he’ll tee it up at his home course, along with his father.
As for what will happen when Feeman returns home in the fall, that’s yet to be determined.
“I’d like to do something related to golf,” he said, “maybe work for the First Tee or some other golf program for kids. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. I’ll probably get home, sleep for two weeks, and then figure out what’s next.”
• Jamie Mandell, sales director at Endeavor Services Group, has been named General Chairman of the 2013 Porter Cup, which will be held from July 23-27 at Niagara Falls Country Club. The Porter Cup qualifying tournament is Monday at NFCC with the low eight scores earning a spot in next month’s field.
• University of Rochester senior Nick Palladino won the 73rd Monroe Invitational Championship over the weekend, defeating Duke sophomore Motin Yeung with a par on their first playoff hole after both shot 4-under 206 for 54 holes (one round was cancelled because of weather) at Monroe Golf Club. Josh Stauffer, a sophomore at St. Bonaventure, finished tied for 53rd in the 78-player field at 13-over after rounds of 72-72-79.