Golf

Making the rounds: Four different paths to PGA and LPGA

For every golfer who tees it up on the PGA Tour in Napa or LPGA Tour in South Korea this week, there are 100 who would give their right (pick a body part that doesn’t affect the golf swing) to be there.

Peter Lansburgh, Steven Chung, Chelsea Stelzmiller and Briana Mao, each from the Sacramento area, are among them. Each has cleared the first hurdle toward golf’s major leagues this year, but each still has a long and daunting road ahead.

They share a high degree of confidence in their golf ability but little else.

One is still an amateur. One is 22, while the three in their late 20s needed to get their mind, game and finances in order before embarking on the journey. Two played in college. Three stepped away from the game before rediscovering their passion. Three are taking their first run through the gantlet typically referred to as Q School.

Whereas the best golfers play for millions of dollars this week, Lansburgh, Chung, Stelzmiller and Mao paid $5,000 for the privilege to play in relative obscurity next week. Lansburgh and Chung, who advanced through pre-qualifying last month, will be in Dayton, Nev., for the first of three Web.com Tour qualifying stages. Stelzmiller and Mao, who advanced through the first stage of LPGA Tour qualifying in August, will be in Venice, Fla., for the second of three LPGA stages.

The skinny on four local players trying to negotiate the long road of qualifying for the PGA and LPGA tours:

Peter Lansburgh, 27

Roots: Grew up in Woodland, lived in Elk Grove.

Amateur chops:

Won 11 city titles regionally; qualified for three U.S. Amateur Public Links; holds WildHawk course record (60).

Turned pro: 2012. Won on the Dakotas Tour in 2013. First Q School appearance. “Finances have always been a concern. I also felt I wasn’t ready. It would have been crazy for me to pay all that money if I didn’t feel like I was ready.”

Aha moment: Last year caddied for Tyler Weworski through three stages of Web.com qualifying. “Seeing all that and what it took, that’s when I really realized I should be on the other side of the bag.”

What makes you think you have what it takes? “I have a large toolbox of skills. I have the ability to play in any condition on any type of golf course in any part of the world.”

I will succeed if … : “I don’t think I need the ‘if’ part. That’s my personal opinion. I know I will succeed.”

Game: “The best part about my game is how well I can stay in it. That’s what helps me keep every round even keel.” He’s hoping for the wind to blow next week, as it usually does at Dayton Valley. “That’s what I want. A real test of golf.”

Big picture: “I have no timeline. I envision myself living the dream forever.”

Steven Chung, 29

Roots: Lived in Natomas for 11 years.

Amateur chops: Two-time winner of NCGA Valley Amateur; U.S. Amateur qualifier.

Still an amateur: “There’s been no benefit to turning pro.” Will turn pro if he earns Web.com Tour status or tries to qualify for the Asian PGA Tour, which he is contemplating. Has no interest in playing minitours, although he’s a regular in skins games around town. First Q School appearance.

Break in the action: He started playing again last year after not picking up a club for five years. “Zero golf,” he said. The reason? “I was on the fringe but not quite good enough.” Reason for resumption? “I don’t really know.” And now? “I’ve found my fire again.”

Laid-back demeanor: “I try to stay under the radar. I’m not very flashy.”

What makes you think you have what it takes? “You really don’t know until you try.”

I will succeed if … : “I have confidence in myself and perform to the best of my abilities.”

Game: “I keep it in play and make some putts here and there. A very boring game.”

Big picture: “I’m going all in. I’m going wherever my game leads me.”

Chelsea Stelzmiller, 26

Roots: Lifelong Placerville resident.

Amateur chops: Played at UC Davis; all-Big West Conference four times; a U.S. Women’s Amateur quarterfinalist and U.S. Women’s Open qualifier.

Turned pro: 2012, but didn’t compete for two years, instead working at Winchester and Serrano. Second Q School appearance (failed to advance through first stage last year).

Break in the action: Graduated in 2011 with a degree in international relations. “I really wasn’t ready for Q School, something I had planned on my entire life. I took a break from golf and, to be honest, I enjoyed it. Golf had become a job.”

Back in the game: Has played full time since January. In eight Cactus Tour events this year has four top-10 finishes. “I was old enough where I needed to give it a shot or it was never going to happen. I appreciate it more now. Working 9-to-5 gave me perspective.”

What makes you think you have what it takes? “I just know. I feel I can almost will the ball in the hole. I never give up; I fight for every shot.”

I will succeed if …: “I keep my eye on the prize and keep working as hard as I can.”

Game: “I have a really creative game. I can hit every shot I need to hit.”

Big picture: Has Symetra Tour status next year via her first-stage success.

Briana Mao, 22

Roots: Grew up and lives in Folsom.

Amateur chops: Played at Virginia, where she was all-Atlantic Coast Conference twice.

Turned pro: August. First Q School appearance.

First stage:

She closed with a 2-over-par 74 to make it through with a shot to spare. “The last day you could feel the tension from everyone. ... I started thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ I played terrible that last day, but I still got through.”

Aha moment: Made a 10 on the first hole of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open and still received encouraging words from LPGA Tour regular Ai Miyazato, who she played alongside. “She was like, ‘You are a great player. You should be out here.’ 

Degree in cognitive psychology: Does it help? “It’s easy to diagnose; it’s a whole different thing to change the way you think. I don’t analyze myself to find ways to help me as a patient, but I do analyze myself to find all of my problems. I’m not a third party, so I don’t see a whole lot of things other people would.”

What makes you think you have what it takes? “I’ve been told, and I believe, I have all the skills.”

Game: “I rarely miss fairways.”

I’ll succeed if …: “I finally get out of my own way.”

Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526, @Steve_Pajak

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