By DAVID DROSCHAK
Two-time PGA Tour winner and former University of North Carolina men’s golf coach John Inman thought his days of competitive golf were numbered after an uneventful run on the Web.com in 2011 and an even less stellar attempt at Champions Tour Q-School a year later.
Inman, an All-American golfer with the Tar Heels and 1984 NCAA champion, resigned as the coach of his alma mater after 13 seasons in May 2011. He then headed out to the minor leagues of golf, where he missed the cut in all 10 Web.com tournaments, then tied for 55th at the Champions Tour Qualifying School in 2012.
Still not deterred, Inman participated in 14 Champions Tour events this season, earning limited status as a former multiple winner (1987 Provident Classic, 1993 Buick Southern Open) on the PGA Tour.
Inman struggled early, but earned his only top 10 finish in October at the Greater Hickory Kia Classic at Rock Barn. His fall also included a tie for 18th at Pebble Beach with a second-round 66 to his credit (his season low) and a season-ending tie for 30th in San Antonio.
Inman finished near the bottom of the money list and failed to qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup, where the top 30 points leaders battle it out for $1 million.
Inman’s older brother Joe was a successful Champions Tour player before retiring from competitive golf. He is now the head golf coach at Georgia State, combining with John as one of only 12 brothers to have won PGA Tour events.
“It is fun because I’ve always enjoyed competing and playing,” Inman said of the Champions Tour. “My brother just told me, ‘Remember the guys that were kicking your butt 25 years ago will still be kicking your butt now … and they are good.’
“I’ve seen a progression in my game, getting comfortable in certain situations and doing things under pressure that I haven’t done in 15 years,” Inman added. “It is a process and it’s hard for a short hitter nowadays on any tour. But I played with Corey Pavin out in Hawaii and he almost won that tournament and I hit it past Corey. It ain’t just driving, you have to know how to hit the shots and be able to score.”
Inman’s distance off the tee has always been the weaker part of his game. His season, his 256.6 average was good for just 80th on the Champions Tour. In contrast, he was 23rd in driving accuracy; and 31st each in putts per round and scrambling.
“It is so much mental and it always has been,” Inman said. “You have to be comfortable. One of my favorite commercials is when Arnold Palmer says ‘Swing your swing.’ We all have the same tendencies we’ve had since we were kids and you work on things, and you think you have changed them but they are always there. So you have to know what your tendencies are and what happens to your game under pressure. I’m relearning all of that again. Sometimes I think I can ride a bike a whole heck of a lot better than I can play golf.”
Inman has performed under pressure in the past, winning the NCAA title with a record-setting score, winning twice on Tour and finishing second one year at the PGA Tour Q-School.
Most if not all of the 50-and-over players heading to the Champions Tour next season will gain status via the career money route, so Inman expects to compete in at least as many events as this season, if not more. However, his status as a two-time PGA Tour winner runs out after 2014, so Inman must start shooting in the 60s if he wants to remain in competitive golf.
“I worked pretty hard to get ready this year and I felt good physically,” he said. “I’ve made some minor tweaks in my equipment; I just need to be better overall. It is a consistency factor and not making innocent bogeys, and making three or four of them in a round. You need to have clean rounds and I’ve only had one clean round all year with no bogeys. I know I can make birdies; it’s just not making the mistakes that are so easy to do.”
Like a triple bogey seven on the first hole of the SAS Championship that led to an opening nine-hole score of 5-over that sank Inman before he really got started. Or his final shot at Pebble Beach.
“I was trying to hit a little sand shot into the wind and the sun was shining right in my eyes. It was like I was looking into a spotlight and I hit it on the back of the green 50 feet and three putted,” Inman said. “That’s an innocent bogey. Here I’m looking at a birdie and I made an innocent bogey. You have to capitalize on your good shots and when I’m 50 feet make par, not bogey.
“My short game is one of those things that got better throughout the year but it’s doing it under pressure and trusting what you’re doing,” he added. “And when you have to hit a 3-wood over water you know you have to hit it all and you have to pull it off. You have to have that a few times so the next time you get up there you’re ready to go and you’re not questioning yourself and thinking of any bad stuff. I’ve always been one that could block all that stuff out.”