Jake Katz kept setting deadlines for himself.
But as each one of them passed, it became increasingly clear the miniscule odds of becoming a PGA Tour golfer were too much to overcome.
So the 25-year-old from Williamsville “pulled the plug” this spring, giving up his dream and returning home.
“It had kind of been building,” Katz said of the decision to halt his pursuit of a professional career. “I kept giving myself another month, another tournament, like ‘this is it.’
“It wasn’t going like I thought it would. If I kept getting better every year, it would have been one thing, but I wasn’t.”
Katz most recently played on the NGA Tour, a developmental circuit a notch below the Web.com Tour. In his last event, at Ocala National in Ocala, Fla., in early April, he missed the cut after shooting rounds of 72 and 77.
“My last nine holes, I shot 35 and I had seven putts inside 10 feet,” he said. “I didn’t make a single one. If that side wasn’t a 30 or a 29, then I knew that was it. I got in my car from Ocala and drove home.”
Katz, though, had started thinking about a career change even before that.
“Honestly, probably middle of last summer,” he said of when he first thought about it. “My results started to drop. I wasn’t winning tournaments like I was when I first started. It kind of became tedious a little bit. ... I know people grind for 10 years and they don’t see the results, but I didn’t want to just keep struggling. I really wanted to get out there and be successful – which I was – but then it just kind of slowed down.”
Katz turned professional in 2011 shortly after winning his second straight Buffalo District Golf Association Men’s Individual championship, firmly establishing himself as Western New York’s best amateur player.
A year prior, he finished tied for 10th at the Porter Cup – the last local player to seriously contend. During that event, he played the final round in the last threesome with eventual two-time PGA Tour winner Russell Henley, a sign that he could compete with the nation’s best players.
Katz’s professional career got off to a great start. He advanced through the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying school in the fall of 2011, then had top-three finishes in five of his first 11 starts on the Fuzion-Minor League Golf Tour. “I was playing really well there for about a year and a half,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it and it was clicking.”
Katz couldn’t sustain the momentum, though, and soon those mid-60s rounds started turning into low 70s.
“It got into my head. I don’t know if I started doing different things or started to change too many things,” he said. “I don’t think there’s really one answer.”
While a round near level par sounds like a dream to the vast majority of golfers, Katz knew it wasn’t going to be nearly good enough as a professional.
“I didn’t think I could make millions of dollars and be a professional golfer shooting 70,” he said. “I knew I needed to shoot rounds of 68 or better consecutively for four rounds. It just wasn’t happening, so instead of beating a dead horse, I pulled the plug.”
There seems to be a never-ending stream of players who are able to go low. In Katz’s last four NGA events, the winning score was between 12 and 19 under par.
Katz, meanwhile, was missing the cut by four or five strokes per tournament. That amounts to about two shots per round.
“It’s this close,” Katz said of the razor-thin difference between professional players, holding his finger and thumb a centimeter apart. “One five-foot putt per side, and that was the difference. I mean, make one five foot-putt? I can do that. I’ve made a million five-foot putts in my life. I knew in my head that’s what I felt I needed to do, and I just couldn’t do it, but I wasn’t far off.”
When you’re missing cuts as a professional golfer, things get expensive in a hurry. Katz saved some money by living with an uncle in Coral Springs, Fla., the past three winters and crashing on friends’ couches whenever possible, but still was spending between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, by his own estimate, on travel and tournament fees. In about 90 tournaments during that time, he banked about $25,000.
“My parents had been supporting me. My uncle and family members were supporting me,” Katz said. “I still had stuff to pay for. Going in, I knew that’s what I was going to have to do, but it starts to wear on you.”
That’s not to say Katz’s love of the game ever waned. In fact, the opposite is true.
“I’ll never not love golf,” he said. “I always wanted to keep playing. It was the coolest job in the world, I got to wake up and play golf every day. I liked the grind. I like practicing.
“I was almost always the first one at the golf course on days off. That never got old to me, but I wasn’t getting the results I knew I needed. … I always want to get better and keep playing. There’s always something you can learn, so I’ll never get sick of it. I don’t want to. It’s something I’ve loved for 20 years. I couldn’t see myself not playing.”
The good news for Katz is he won’t have to sit out long. He’s petitioned the United States Golf Association to regain his amateur status, and will do so by April. He’ll then be able to play BDGA events and major amateur tournaments like the Porter Cup (should he be invited or qualify).
In the meantime, though, it’s life in the real world. Katz started a job Tuesday as a financial adviser in Clarence.
• A total of 15 golfers qualified for the New York State Men’s Amateur Championship last week during a qualifying tournament at River Oaks on Grand Island. Medalist Cory Cullen, a St. Francis graduate, shot a 3-under 69.
Also qualifying for the state am, which will be held July 22-24 at Bellevue Country Club, were: Jake Yartz (NYSGA Associate Member, 70), David Berkun (Westwood, 70), Jonathan Clark (Crag Burn, 71), Bob Rosen (Country Club of Buffalo, 71), Mark Hajnos (River Oaks, 72), Eric Hajnos (River Oaks, 72), Curtis Fearrington (Byrncliff, 72), Billy Gaffney (Crag Burn, 72), T.J. Sumigray (72), Gregory Cecchini (Crag Burn, 73), Joseph Waleszczak (NSYSA eClub of WNY, 73), Stosh Kajfasz (Seneca Hickory Stick, 73) Zach Fuller (73) and Andrew Edbauer (Wanakah, 73).
Gregory Sibick (Park) previously qualified for the state am by shooting a 4-over 76 at the Rochester-area qualifying tournament at Brookwoods Country Club. That was good for a tie for eighth place.
• Local golf news is welcome at the email address below.