Andrew & Benji take on The Dakotas Tour

How can it be over six years since I wrote this; impossible! Still, reading it again reminds me of writing it and makes me want to drop AVL to see how he’s doing.




In 1996 Tiger Woods said, “Hello world,” and things haven’t been the same since. Before Woods ever put a tee into the ground as a professional he’d been made a multimillionaire by Nike and Titleist. For the first time, far more of a player’s income was going to come from sponsorships than tournament winnings. A new world order had arrived and golf almost instantly expanded into a truly global game.

Since then, we’ve said hello to a bunch of mini-Tigers like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa. What each of these players have in common (along with a lot of game) is a massive corporate support mechanism. Each is as much a brand as a player. Fowler actively cultivates his image and look on his website by asking, “Love my look?” His Cowboy-orange and flat-billed cap are tools helping to set himself apart from the rest of the khaki-clad PGA Tour crowd. And, while it would be easy (if a tad cynical) to say most great players have yet to set themselves apart by winning,

I don’t want to create the impression I don’t like this crop of young, corporately well-connected, players because for the most part I do. It’s just that I also enjoy following the kind of player who lacks such deep-pocketed support. It’s important to understand how many players come to professional golf in anonymity and with significant hardship.

It’s well known Ben Hogan failed on the PGA tour at least once before finally breaking through. Before succeeding, he was down to his last bit of cash, $86 from a war chest of $1400. He had promised his wife Valerie (who was driving with him from event to event) that if he didn’t earn a check in the next tournament they would take what little money they had left and make their way home to Fort Worth, Texas. The morning before the tournament, the Hogans awoke to find their Buick stripped of its rear tires and wheels, its rear axle propped up on rocks.

Hogan got a ride to the tournament and ended up winning $385. Hogan described that check as the biggest one he had ever seen and he was quite sure it was the biggest he would ever see in his entire life. It’s impossible to imagine that Hogan sponsored by Nike, given millions of dollars before he had ever put a tee into the ground in a professional event. Hogan is a reminder that for every Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler there are thousands of aspiring players who come up another way; a much harder way.

Jim Von Lossow came to professional golf in a way much closer to that of Hogan than of Fowler or Woods. Jim’s an old friend of mine and some years back he told me of his time on the PGA Tour. He was only 20 when he left Seattle for California and his parents had no love for the idea of playing professional golf. Jim’s quest to play on tour was one he faced largely on his own. He ended up on tour for a few years and even played alongside some storied players like Tom Kite and Jack Fleck. Though Jim didn’t make many headlines while on tour, his journey led him to become a PGA instructor, the first putter manufacturer to mill heads from 303 stainless steel and now one of the most respected club fitters in the country.

It’s no surprise that Jim and his wife, Susan, have two children who grew up excelling at golf; their daughter, Hannah, and son, Andrew. When it came to Andrew, Jim hadn’t realized how good he’d gotten until Andrew and his friend, Eric Benjamin, shot back to back rounds in the low 60s. This got Jim thinking and he and Susan decided to stake Andrew and Benji enough cash to cover a summer playing The Dakotas Tour. “When I was coming up, I didn’t have the support of my parents when it came to golf,” Jim told me. “So, it was important to me that my wife and I give Andrew and Benji whatever help we could.”

Toward the end of July, Andrew and Benji loaded Andrew’s 1997 Toyota Camry and headed east toward Bozeman, Montana. Bozeman would serve as the duo’s home base for their summer on The Dakotas Tour since Benji knew some folks there. Andrew & Benji missed the first eight events of the 2010 Dakotas Tour season. These tournaments were played in cities with names like Okoboji, Iowa. Obscurity is common in professional golf. A serious golf fan might be able to name 50 PGA Tour players but there are 125 exempt spots. Add the players on the Nationwide Tour, the Canadian Tour and all the myriad other mini tours and we’re talking about serious obscurity. Galleries consist of friends and family, but more likely no one at all. Testing one’s game on a tour like the Dakotas was a strong reminder that golf can be a very solitary game, especially for aspiring professionals like Andrew & Benji.

Still, this is a duo that’s pretty comfortable with obscurity. They’ve even created their own organization to promote it; The Northwest Obscure Golf Association. Andrew & Benji came up with the name when they were forced to admit that to play as much as they needed to play to sharpen their games they’d have to play on some of the area’s scruffier courses. So, for two months of summer in 2010, Andrew & Benji tested their games against other aspiring professionals. They played some golf, they drove a lot of miles and had a lot of fun. At the end of the summer, they both agreed it had been the best one ever.


After arriving in Bozeman, Andrew & Benji drove about 700 miles for a one day Pro-Am at Wild Oak GC in Mitchell, South Dakota. For the next few weeks, Andrew & Benji teed it up twice in Yankton, South Dakota at Fox run and then at the open qualifier at Hillcrest Country Club.

Which open? The Bobcat State Open at Fargo Country Club, of course. Notably, the state animal of South Dakota is the coyote, so go figure. Jim Von Lossow had told me what good players his son Andrew and daughter had become, but it was Andrew’s humble blogging that drove home just what fine players he and Benji are and at the same time what a difficult undertaking they were attempting.

Andrew’s first blog entry:

Benji and I played a practice round at Fargo Country Club. It was a nice day, around 80 degrees with a slight breeze. The forecast for tomorrow is calling for wind and sun. I tee off at 8:20am while Benji tees off at 1:20pm. 

The greens are very firm and fast. The key to approach shots is staying below the hole and taking one club less for the ball to run up to the pin. This is a very Northwest-style golf course so Benji and I feel comfortable playing here.

Here are a couple pics from today at the Fargo Country Club…

Eric Benjamin

To the casual reader, I’m sure these photos simply look like two really good players teeing off. But, when I look at them I’m trying to imagine if Andrew & Benji felt differently when they put the tee in the ground. They were doing what they had done thousands of times before, but they were doing it for a very different reason. Their ability, their pure joy in playing the game and their newfound drive to play golf for a living, had taken Andrew & Benji to this very unusual place.

I once watched Nick Price in one of his first tournaments on the Champion’s Tour. I had sought him out before he teed off to tell him how much I enjoyed his book, The Swing, which had come out a few years earlier. Nick Price was as kind and gracious a man as his reputation would suggest. There were a few people who watched him tee off, but by the 3rd hole his gallery had all but vanished. It was a perfect, glorious day in Southern California and one of the best players in the game was playing a competitive round of golf in almost total solitude.

That was an odd event. It was the first day of a tournament that had been moved from one course to another and attendance would be light until the weekend. But, that day reminded me what a lonely and isolating game professional golf can be. As I walked with Price I marveled at his rapid-fire swing and the dead-solid sound the ball made when he struck it with an iron, and I felt a little sorry for him. I know…Price wasn’t really alone, and was certainly not lonely. Still, live professional golf very often doesn’t always bear as much similarity to the game we see on television as we might expect.

Andrew & Benji were taking their first steps toward becoming a colleague of Nick Price but I’m sure they didn’t see it that way. They were and are good friends who wanted most of all to have their best summer ever. While they were at it, they would measure their games against each other and against the games of the other players with the same mission.

They both knew it wouldn’t be easy:

Day 31-33

Day 1 of the Bobcat North Dakota State Open:

Benji and I both shot 75. I played in the morning and made the turn at 3 over and shot even on the back. 

For Benji’s round in the afternoon the wind picked up and baked out the greens. He hit a flagstick from 190 yards and the ball then went into the water in the greenside hazard. In the last 3 tournaments, Benji has at least hit one flag per tourney. His round also lasted 6.5 hours. 

Day 2:

Benji shot 70. He played solid but just had one bad hole. He was punching out from the trees when his ball caught the trunk of a tree sending it into the hazard. Benji missed the cut by 2.

For myself, I shot 81. Made the turn at 3 over again and knew I had to make some moves if I wanted any chance of making the cut. Instead the round went the other way.

We are leaving North Dakota today and heading to Milbank, South Dakota. We will drive three hours and play a practice round at Pine Hills Golf Club for a one-day Pro Am tomorrow, August 30th.

We are looking forward to playing a new course and teeing it up in another tournament.

For 7,000 miles, Andrew & Benji chased the little white ball across the Dakotas and into Montana, going all the way east to Iowa for the Tour Championship. They were like the golf equivalents of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, hopping from town to town, staying at KOA campgrounds. Playing golf was the reason for their trip but I will bet it was the trip itself they’ll remember most keenly. As another Cervantes once wrote, “The Journey is better than the inn.” In an era when people are brought together over vast distance by technology, it’s even more important to venture into the expanse from time to time. I’m sure Andrew & Benji would agree.

Koa Benji

I wondered a lot about Andrew & Benji and their dream of playing golf for a living. In fact, when I started working on this story, I wasn’t even sure they really wanted to play the game for a living. So, I talked to Andrew about it.

Today, Andrew Von Lossow’s day job is studying Design at Eastern Washington University where he’s on schedule to graduate in 2013. He told me about the reaction of his fellow students when he tells that in his spare time he’s a professional golfer. Not surprisingly, they don’t quite know what that means. When most people think of the word professional, they think of doctors and lawyers, not golfers.

When asked to describe his game, Andrew said, “My strength is ball striking. I can hit high long irons and from there I have good confidence in my other irons. My chipping and pitching are works in progress. Same with my putting; I am a streaky putter I can really get it going when I am on. When I’m not, it is a lot of two putts and the occasional and dreaded 3 putt.” He’s clearly a guy who believes in his game and has done a lot to develop it from working with a number of teaching pros to enhancing his overall fitness by following a rigorous fitness regimen developed by the Titleist Performance Institute.

As ever, golf is a game of making three shots into two shots any way you can. The different mind set of the truly fine player is revealed when he says, “Once I make one birdie, I feel I can string them together. The more birdies I make, the more unaware of my score I get because I get caught up on the next shot to make the lowest score possible.” Poor players don’t think that way. A couple good holes is more likely to make them protective than confident. Andrew clearly has the confidence to go low when the opportunity comes his way, as he did by finishing 5th and winning $800 in the Gallatin Valley Open.

He wrote about the event and the end of his first pro tour:

Back Home

What a journey it was out in the Dakotas. Benji and I both agree that this was the best summer we have ever had. Benji had some great finishes in tournaments while I was enrolled in the school of hard knocks in the tour life. What I learned was very important for becoming a better player. Golf is not easy as we all know. 

The last tournament, The Gallatin Valley Open, I came in 5th shooting 72-68. The first day I shot 4-over 40 on the front nine and I took some experience from my previous tournaments and shot 4-under 32 on the back nine. The next day I shot a bogey free 68 to make a move up the leader board to cash my first professional check.

I’ll bet Andrew’s closing 68 felt so easy. At the same time, I’m sure that front nine 40 must have had him doubting that he was cut out to play professional golf. The ability to turn off those doubts and salvage par says a lot about his resiliency. Still, it must be extraordinarily difficult for an aspiring professional to measure his game, until the heat of professional competition gets turned up. Then it becomes easy, if potentially confidence crushing. There are so many good players today. As sure as I am that the best players of eras gone by like Nicklaus, Hogan and Ballesteros would still be amazingly successful players today, I’m equally certain the depth of quality players is greater today than it’s ever been.

No one needs to tell Jim Von Lossow about the difficult challenge that lay ahead for his son. There is surely no way to tell whether Andrew will be able to make a living playing golf. But, that’s not really the point. In golf and in life, outcomes are never assured. All we can do is make our best swing, go find the ball, and do it all again.

Today, Andrew & Benji are continuing to hone their games in preparation for their next trek on tour. They’re sure to have plenty of birdies and their fair share of bogies when they do.

Their best summers ever are just ahead.

Andrew & Benji take on The Dakotas Tour

Eureka! I have found it! A look the fleeting nature of the Aha-Moment in golf

Everyone who has ever played golf has experienced his share of Eureka moments. You know…when some little, seemingly insignificant move or feeling leads to a streak of ball striking that would make Hogan envious. The question is what makes the feeling (and the glorious results) go away?

Was it really just a feeling; some phantom perception the brain tricks the player into believing is real?

Or, was the feeling genuine but merely based upon a movement, or position, that could not be sustained over time?

Or, speaking of time, was the good play the result of an increased yet transitory sensitivity to rhythm? If it’s this, it’s all the more surprising that it goes away. Once we learn the meter and rhythm of a dance step, we’ve usually got it for good.

Beyond these questions, is whether the same discovery can come back and work more than once?

Fortunately, there are people who know a lot more about the golf swing than I do and are far better able to wrestle with these questions. Two of them are PGA professionals I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Tony Manzoni is the author of The Lost Fundamental ( and Kathy Cho ( is working on a book called, From the Hole to the Tee, an instructional book especially for children and the adults who teach them.

Tony was a tour player and is also one of the founders of Callaway Golf. For the last 40 years, he has been one of the most sought after teaching professionals in the California Desert. He has also coached the College of the Desert golf team for the last 25 years, leading them to dozens of league championships.

Kathy is both a Class A PGA and LPGA professional. She has been the head coach of Pasadena’s First Tee program at the city’s legendary Brookside Golf course for the last five years. She has been teaching the game she loves since 2003.

For Kathy, “The Eureka moment is a beautiful thing. It’s just the game of golf. Part of golf’s challenge is that it can be so frustrating.” The question for Kathy is how the player deals with frustration when it comes. She says, “Relax, and use quality practice to rebuild your confidence. We’re all looking to stay in the zone when we get there, but tension and frustration are the enemy,” Kathy warns. “The player who has lost his way needs to be positive, patient and be ready to play well again.

One point Kathy made I should have anticipated but didn’t, was perhaps the most obvious: Take a lesson. Your local PGA pro may be able to recognize what has gone wrong with your swing and will save the player a great deal of frustration, let alone time.

Kathy also thinks it’s a good idea to have a check list of sorts that details what was going on when the player was in the zone as well as when he lost his swing. Kathy says, “Ask yourself if you’re feeling OK? Have you been staying healthy? Are you practicing good course management or have you been playing golf the hard way?”

Kathy wants her students to think about the basics. “The golf swing has too many parts for us to think about everything that’s happening. Also, it’s easy to try too hard and to over swing when our game takes a bad turn.” Instead, Kathy advises players to, “Think about the basics like good balance, keeping a steady pace; that includes keeping control of your breathing.”

Few in golf have accomplished what Tony Manzoni has accomplished during his storied career. He has enjoyed success as a player and an entrepreneur. Tony’s also given back to golf with his long and impressive tenure as the Director of College of the Desert’s Golf Management Program and as a teaching professional. Golf is Tony’s game, but even someone of his stature can occasionally be made humble by this game.

“Everyone who has played golf for a good number of years has shared this common experience, or Eureka moment; when a swing idea, or maybe a thought from the past, surfaces and all of a sudden we are hitting the ball like we always dreamed we could. Sometimes it happens on the driving range or when you are out playing, and generally none of your buddies are around to witness this state of Hoganism. You can’t wait to utter the forbidden phrase, I’ve got it, to anyone in sight.”

“I’ve had those moments when the game seemed so easy I’d start fantasizing about winning the next tournament. I could hardly sleep at night anxiously waiting for daybreak to hit the links and show the world the new me. Then, like a puff of smoke the spell is broken. No matter how hard a player tries to re-create yesterday’s results nothing works. Then you’re left to wonder: how can the golf god’s be so cruel?”

“I have seen grown men weep over this frustrating dilemma; it`s like God has let them see golf heaven for just a moment and then shut the door. I’ve had students come to me and say, Coach, I hit it so good yesterday but today I stunk up the place, what can I do?”

“My answer may be difficult to swallow. Golf is a game of feel, not a game of purposely doing something. When you feel like it’s going to be good prior to doing it, the magic happens. When you are trying to make it happen, good luck. It is far easier to blueprint the feel of a mistake than to anticipate perfection. Pressure is the manifestation of doubt. If we can, we feel the positive outcome beforehand; pressure or doubt does not exist. When the Eureka moment happens enjoy and remember the feeling. It is internal and not meant to be talked about or displayed.”

I have to admit these two pros may see things a bit more clearly than I can. Me? I’ve had my share of Eureka moments, but I now work hard to ignore them. I try to work ceaselessly and ploddingly on what I believe to be fundamental, but that’s not always easy. Still, this practice keeps me from getting too worked up over something that probably won’t stick around.

It is difficult to resist telling our golf buddies about our latest discovery that has us reconsidering our career choice and dreaming of a trip to Q School. As I said, that’s a lesson that took me many years to learn. It will always be hard for our drive to excel to coexist with the wisdom of being reasonable when it comes to expectations about how well we play. It’s often more difficult to be fair to ourselves than it is to be fair to others.

With any luck, my next Eureka moment is coming along soon; but I won’t be telling anyone about it when it arrives!

Eureka! I have found it! A look the fleeting nature of the Aha-Moment in golf

Golf’s technogurus & losing the elegance of self discovery

When Jon Fitzgerald reached the age of 40 he embarked on an all-too common quest; to make his golf game as good as possible. His film, The Back Nine, chronicles his project. The story starts with a brief personal history of Fitzgerald, his life with his father and stepfather, and a look back at his youthful athleticism.

Like most of us, Fitzgerald has to keep a lot of plates spinning in his life. He has a wife, a job and, at the start of the film, one child. I was interested to see what Fitzgerlad’s effort at the age of 40 would look like compared to mine at nearly 50.

It was quite impressive if at the same time more than a little dismaying.

Fitzgerald started out, as do so many golfers (myself included) by seeking the help of a professional. Now, seeing a golf teacher is far from odd, but what Fitzgerald did went far beyond working with a pro. Rather than just a golf teacher, Fitzgerald started out with a visit to a Yoga/Golf guru in Arizona. She then referred him to a strength coach, who referred him to a swing coach, who referred him to a guy who uses a battery of imaging devices, including a vest with embedded sensors, that would allow Fitzgerald to have his progress monitored via the internet.

There is a part of me who envies the resources Fitzgerald employed, but there’s a bigger part of me who finds it all rather sad. Every player thinks he should be better. They think they should hit it further, straighter, and they should make more putts than they do. There’s something about the attempted blending of golf and technology that suggests to average players that they really can be better if they have all of the information they need. Of course, this is nothing new. Ben Hogan started a good deal of the madness with his now ubiquitous references to pronation and supination in his classic, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

I can’t prove it but my guess is that Hogan, with his undeniably modest education, didn’t know what either word meant until his co-writer, Herbert Warren Wind, told Hogan what they meant. I also can’t prove that Hogan’s use of those two words caused far more confusion than they did understanding over the last few decades. But, they surely have caused a lot of confusion.

Wrapped up in nearly every technological breakthrough in golf instruction is a basic fallacy; that knowing will always make you better. Knowing begs the question of knowing what? In Fitzgerald’s case (and mine, too) the most profound if sobering knowledge is that we’ll never be all that good. We lack the basic ability to be very much better than we are. Fitzgerald’s swing at the end of the films looks pretty much like his swing at the start. He has rather a notchy backswing and can’t quite clear his hips coming through impact. I have the same problems and lots of others.

Do I seem pessimistic? Or, do I seem envious?

No matter what I am I will admit some players get better, I’ll even allow they get better because of solid instruction. But it seems to me there’s a difference between one on one instruction and the technological phalanx Fitzgerald subjected himself to. Players who get better in golf usually do it through a series of hard-won self discoveries. The purveyors of technogolf would have us believe that they know what we might never discover on our own. Fitzgerald discovers he needs orthotics since his left foot pronates (there’s that word again).


I’m glad some great players with somewhat unusual swings didn’t live in an era when the technogurus could have screwed them up. Honestly, what would these guys have done with Lee Trevino’s self-discovered practice of aiming left while swinging right? If he were young enough, he would have probably listened to them, adjusted his stance so that it looked and measured parallel to his intended line of flight. They would have also shown him that his head dropped 6″ from address to impact and they would have fixed that, too.

And, Lee Trevino would have vanished into golf’s abyss, never to be seen again.

For already accomplished players technogurus may not do too much harm, then again maybe they do. At age 35, Tiger Woods is rebuilding his swing for the third time. I am certain that each time a technoguro convinced him, arguably the best player ever to play golf, that technology proved that his swing needed a substantive change.

Of course, no swing stays the same, and even golf’s old timers sought help in formal and some not so formal ways. But, it’s my contention that one of the reasons contemporary players can fall so fast and so far is from their growing reliance on the certitude technogurus offer. Think of the declines of Chris Riley, Ty Tryon and David Gossett to name only three. Did their games really decline or were they let down by the relentless analysis of technogurus?

At UCLA’s Royce Hall there is a quote from Plato that goes something like this: Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found to be indispensable. The tools championed by the technogurus are genuinely impressive but whether they are indispensable, or even truly helpful, to players is far from certain.

I’m busy writing an golf book for women. In it, I use this phrase: You will also never master this game. You will, however, go from discovery to discovery for the rest of your life.

Golf is a solitary game of self discovery. The congregation of golf’s technogurus may honestly believe in what they do. But, that’s not really what matters here. What matters is that the elegance of self discovery remains at the heart of golf.

Golf’s technogurus & losing the elegance of self discovery