Tin Cup Dreams: A Long Shot Makes It on the PGA Tour

Tin Cup Dreams: A Long Shot Makes It on the PGA Tour

by Michael D'Antonio


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Now available in paperback, Tin Cup Dreams is the remarkable odyssey of self-taught golfer Esteban Toledo, a former boxer who overcame poverty and the wrong side of the tracks to make it through Q School and a make-or-break season on the PGA Tour. With uncommon grit and determination, Toledo finally triumphs after a 12 year quest that took him to the depths of despair.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael D'Antonio gives a rare behind-the-scenes look at the PGA Tour while keeping readers on the edge of their seats with his chronicle of Toledo's struggles. Traditionally, golf was a dreamer's path to glory. Tin Cup Dreams shows that it still is.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786886470
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 05/09/2001
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,037,069
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Michael D'Antonio shared the Pulitzer Prize in journalism as part of a Newsday reporting team. He has written three acclaimed non-fiction books and countless articles for GOLF Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Elle, Redbook, McCall's, and The LA Times Magazine. He is a lifelong golfer whose first paying job was as a caddie at a summer resort in New Hampshire. D'Antonio lives with his family in New York State.

Read an Excerpt


More than any sport, golf rewards individual effort and commitment. Success is not delivered simply by the luck of the genetic lottery. It is earned through hard work, sacrifice, and faith in the possibility that every long shot has a chance to make it. The people who exemplify this ethic, often called grinders, display a kind of strength that transcends the game. Their stories offer real lessons for life.

Even in an age when pop stars have made the concept of easy, instant wealth and fame into an article of faith for the masses, golf inspires thousands of youngsters of all shapes, sizes, and colors to embrace the kind of discipline that makes victory on the course possible. Visit an innercity public course like Brackenridge in San Antonio. In the heat of summer or the gathering darkness of winter, you'll see girls and boys pounding balls, building their dreams with second-hand irons. Whether or not they make their golf dreams come true, they are learning how to believe in themselves, set a goal, and work hard.

This is a book about one of those kids-a grinder- who had a passion for the game and the determination to succeed, which stayed with him well into adulthood and remains strong today. Esteban Toledo possesses an astonishing instinct for survival. A child of abject poverty, he suffered from a profound speech defect, witnessed the death of his father, and virtually raised himself on an isolated farm where nights were lit by candles and water was drawn from a river. Golf would eventually be his way out, but he would endure more than fifteen years of frustration before finding real success. His story is as much about the resilience of his spirit as it is about his chosen sport.

I came to love the game of golf when I began to work as a caddie at Wentworth-by-the-Sea Country Club in the 1960s. Built at the turn-of-the-century, the private Wentworth course hugs a small harbor in the seacoast town of Rye, New Hampshire. Marsh grass and wild roses grow at the places where the salt water reaches toward the rough. The clubhouse is white shingles, a high red roof, and green awnings; the kind of starched Victorian architecture that makes you stand a little straighter as you climb the steps.

In 1967, everything that was right about golf, and everything that was wrong with it, was on display every day at Wentworth. The club was restrictive in its membership. And some of the members could mistreat the scruffy caddies. For their $5, they expected me to carry a huge and heavy golf bag three miles, clean their clubs, track their shots like radar, and wait like a puppy leashed to a fencepost during lunch.

None of these negatives could obscure for the caddies Wentworth's saving grace: the game. Out on the course, even the more arrogant members were brought to their knees by skulled irons, pulled drives, and chunked chip shots. In the midst of their suffering, they often turned to me. Can I reach it with a six iron? Is it in the water? Do you see what I'm doing wrong? At such moments, in the just and honorable realm of golf, we were equals.

Even more grace came at dusk. While the members soothed themselves with alcohol, the caddies were allowed to play. We imitated the swings we had been on TV, and discovered that sometimes we hit solid drives or true putts. Alone on the golf course, our shadows lengthened as the sun dipped to the horizon. Every tree, shrub, and blade of grass glowed. And it all-the green fairways, the sound of the waves on the ocean holes, the buttery light-belonged to us.

My younger brother and I became so obsessed with the game that we turned our school's playground into a par-three layout, even hauling the family's lawnmower over to trim the make-believe fairways. In the dead of winter, when snow covered everything, I'd go to the beach at low tide and practice bunker shots in the sand. Thirty years later, the beach still looks like one giant bunker to me.

But it was not just the intricacies of the sport that drew me to golf. Even as a twelve-year-old boy, I could see that the human dramas played out on the PGA Tour touched on issues beyond the game. Many of the players I admired came from poor or middle-class families. They had been caddies too. And their success was built primarily on hard work, not brawn or privilege. They proved to me that the game's basic fairness was real and that it deserved my faith.

The story of big-time golf in America begins in 1913 with the stunning long-shot victory of Francis Ouimet at the U.S. Open. The frail child of a gardener, Ouimet had caddied for twenty-eight cents per round at The Country Club in Brookline, a suburb of Boston. But as a nonmember he was barred from playing there. When the Open came, young Francis intended to be a spectator. Instead he was recruited to fill out the field and promptly trounced Henry Vardon and rest of the world's elite. He was celebrated across America as the working class youth who wrenched the game out of the hand of the British aristocracy.

Ouimet's achievement is not unique. For decades after his success, the professional game was filled with players from modest means who beat the odds. Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen started as caddies, as did Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Banned from playing the club where he worked, Hagen built his own little course in a vacant field and played with odd clubs discarded by the players he served. Sam Snead grew up on a chicken farm. He also made his own course-a four-holer-and he made some of his own wooden clubs. Among more recent stars, Lee Trevino was raised in a four-room house with no running water or electricity. Ray Floyd was an Army brat who lived on military bases.

I do not mean to say that either golf or the PGA Tour has been open to all on an equal basis. Racism was practiced more thoroughly, and far longer in golf than in other sports. And it exists to this day. But though it was stained by bigotry, the professional game has always been vulnerable to the determined outsider. The Trevinos and Sneads achieved a level of wealth comparable to members of any private club, and status that was even higher. Charlie Sifford broke the most imposing color barrier in all of sport, winning PGA Tour titles in Hartford and Los Angles. They were heroes to me and all the other caddies at the Wentworth. In their success we could see that through the game, the last could become first.

Perhaps more than any sport, golf allows for the underdog to prevail. Golf is not easy. If it were, then Michael Jordan wouldn't lose so much money on the course. But a dedicated and gifted athlete of only average size and strength can reach the top through hard work. Ben Hogan, one of the most revered players of all time, lived this truth. Undersized and self-taught, he struggled into his mid-thirties before he began to win major cham- pionships. Then he went on to become a legend of sport.

Hogan prevailed because he mastered the most difficult challenges in golf, which are not physical but psychological. No athlete is more naked than the golfer poised alone above the ball. He cannot rely on a teammate, or even react to an opponent. He is solely responsible for the swing, the flight of the ball, and the numbers on the scorecard. To make matters worse, it all looks so easy. The ball is just sitting there on the ground. How hard could it be?

The annals of the golf are filled with the all-too-human collapses of truly gifted players who proved how hard it is to train the mind as well as the body. The most infamous may be Leo Diegel, who played most of the major tournaments in the 1920s and 1930s. At the U.S. Open of 1925, Diegel led up until the last six holes. Needing only pars to win, he was struck by so much anxiety that he scored nine over and lost. A more recent example of golf's vagaries is Corey Pavin. Though he won the U.S. Open in 1995 and earned $850,000 in 1996, Pavin couldn't manage to finish in the top ten in any tournament the next year. Anyone who had ever played golf can empathize with Pavin's plight, which did not improve significantly until 1999. The golf swing is a complicated dance of more than 100 muscle movements that take place in less than two seconds. It is fragile, and impossible to perfect. And every player who has ever mastered it for a moment has also lost it. Indeed, a lifetime of golf would involve thousands of such moments of mastery and loss. This experience, shared by the PGA Tour pro and amateur alike, explains the deep connection between the professional golfer and weekend players who form the base of the PGA Tour's audience. Even though the game is played on two distinctly different levels, we believe that we know how the best players feel, and, to an extent, we do.

In recent years golf has changed radically. High-tech clubs, aerodynamically perfect balls, and precision-groomed courses have made the game more forgiving. In the same time, the PGA Tour has become a very big business. Multinational corporations now sponsor a ten-month season of events that generates billions of dollars' worth of economic activity. Tour purses total more than $100 million per year. It's not unusual for first prize at a tournament to be $500,000.

Inevitably, money has become almost a universal obsession among players. With pro golf becoming ever more sophisticated and profitable, the making of a PGA Tour-caliber player has also evolved into a rarefied process. Most of today's young pros are the product of endless lessons aided by computers, trainers, consultants, and cameras. They go to college on golf scholarships and from there turn pro. The best ascend immediately to the PGA Tour with its seven-figure endorsement deals and $4 million-dollar purses. If times get tough, they turn to sports psychologists to help them handle the pressure of competition.

The irony of this era, when TV ratings are higher than ever and record numbers of amateurs have taken up the game, is that the long shot faces more obstacles than ever before. And the underdog stories that inspired me to love the game seem to be fading away. Many writers and oldtime professionals have begun to worry aloud that the pro game is losing touch with golf's values. Too many players are becoming as remote as Fortune 500 CEOs and as spoiled as pop divas. "They think they've gotten bigger than the game they play, and bigger than the people who pay to see them," observed Arnold Palmer.

With this in mind, I set out to discover whether golf at its highest level still reflects the values of the game itself. Is it still open to all? Could a caddie still make it to the top? And if so, what would it take to get there, and stay? I found the answers to these questions in Esteban Toledo's life story. His long-shot dream, and his struggle to make it come true, suggests how we may all do the same.

Golf touches me because of all the games, it is the most forgiving of the body and most demanding of the spirit. In the end it has always rewarded-there's really no other way to put this-goodness. In golf, you don't beat the other player. You don't push him around, or shove the ball in his face. In golf you master first your self, including all your inner demons, and then endure the solitary test that each course delivers. The game reveals character, and that is its most important service to the young players who take it up. This is how it has worked from the beginning. And this is why it matters today.

What People are Saying About This

Steven Pressfield

Extraordinary…Michael D'Antonio made me sweat and bleed along with the gallant knight-errant Toledo whose journey to daylight he so eloquently chronicles.
— Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance

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