In 2011, 30-year-old San Diego native J.J. Killeen was the Nationwide Tour Player of the Year and leading money winner. The TCU graduate had seven top-10s in the season, including wins on back-to-back weeks in July at the Utah Championship and Cox Classic. Here he talks about life on the mini-tours, his putter and making it to the PGA Tour after four years on the Nationwide, among other things.
I grew up playing San Diego Country Club. It's an older course down by the border in Chula Vista, Calif. My dad taught me the game. When I was in high school, we moved to Lubbock, Texas, where I played a lot of courses.
I broke 80 when I was 11. It was during the summer, when all the kids played golf. I shot 76. I remember vividly shooting 80 a couple of times before I finally broke that threshold. The next summer I broke 70.
The thing that I have realized since turning pro in 2005 is that every shot during the first round on Thursday is just as important as what you do on Sunday. It doesn't seem like it is when you're doing it, but they all add up at the end. You usually get more nervous on the weekends when you get in contention, but if you can go low the first two rounds, it makes it easier for the weekend.
A lot of players who are short on cash will play off-site pro-ams during the week of a tournament or any other kind of event to make a couple extra bucks. I would play in these every now and then to make an extra $500. A lot of people don't realize how expensive it is to travel. Out here, you have to pay your own expenses. It might seem like you're making a lot of money. Even on the Nationwide Tour they play for pretty good purses, but I'm married with a 16-month-old daughter and things add up.
My wife and I used to have a social life until we had our daughter. When I'm home, I try to relax as much as I can. My wife and daughter get to travel with me to tournaments. I enjoy following TCU sports, but I don't have any solid hobbies.
I'm looking forward to the competition on the PGA Tour. There are so many good players. The Nationwide Tour prepares you well for the regular tour, and hopefully I will be able to adapt to the settings out there pretty early. But no matter where you are, you're going to have to play good golf.
My game was always kind of inconsistent. I would have a good week here and there. About a year ago, I started working with Chris O'Connell. His biggest client is probably Matt Kuchar. He has helped me to be a way more consistent player and course manager.
I'm probably longer than average, but my iron play has really improved. My short game has always been pretty good. I finished first on the Nationwide Tour in putting this year.
The Karston Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla., is one of the hardest courses we played in college. One year I made a 12 or 14 on the 16th hole. I had a hard time advancing the ball out of some weeds, and on my final try my ball hit off a tree and went right into my golf bag. I was miserable and embarrassed. Everybody made fun of me. The course was so hard, my team had to use my score. I think I shot 84.
Most pros get clubs for free, but I bought my Odyssey putter at a golf shop six years ago. I have used it off and on and I brought it back this year for the second half of the season and I won twice. I had gotten the putter when I was just starting out on the Tight Lies Tour out of college before I got a club deal. I always liked it better for buying it and I've stuck with it.
I really don't set goals for myself. I have expectations. I want to be able to play out there and win. But I'm definitely going to try to be prepared for every event the best I know how and try not to change too much from this past season. Finishing first on the Nationwide money list has allowed me to get into most events next year. That's a relief, but at the same time I'm going to play a lot, so I'm going to have to pace myself.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.