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run at a pro career a quarter century later. “By the time I hit age 50 I had hit everything on the list,” says the married father of one, who sold the family business when he was 48. Niger didn’t need to hear Colin

Montgomerie’s warning to know that it would be a quantum leap from amateur golf to the Senior tour. He methodically sought to prove himself, beginning at home: “My fi rst goal was to dominate in NCGA play. If I couldn’t dominate locally there was no point in going forward.” After his POY campaigns Niger began playing prestigious national events like the Western Amateur and Porter Cup. Continued success propelled him forward. Once he sold his business, he lit out for the Ca- nadian Tour and Golden Bear Tour to test his game against more cut- throat pros. “I won a couple against the young guys,” he says,”which feels

good when they’re hitting it 40 yards past you.” When Niger turned 50 his game

was ready, but the hard work was just beginning. The Champions Tour awards only fi ve cards through Q School, though those fi nishing sixth through 12th earn conditional status. For the last fi ve years Niger has gone through the crucible of the Qualifying tournament and emerged without playing privileges. The only other avenue onto the Tour is through Monday qualifying. In these 18-hole shootouts, 50 or so players are vying for fi ve to seven spots, depending on the size of the tournament proper. But there is so much demand on Mon- day qualifying that the tour holds Darwinian pre-qualifi ers, in which as many as 150 players are competing for as few as fi ve spots. Players who had status on the PGA Tour or previously with the Seniors are exempt from

pre-qualifying, but guys like Niger are not, unless they fi nish in the top 30 at the previous year’s Q School, which he has done only once. In his fi rst two years as a rabbit Niger tried to play his way into 27 events, and succeeded only twice. “I feel more pressure at the pre-qualifi ers than I do in the actual Monday qualifying,” he says. “And I feel more pressure in the Mondays than the tournaments themselves. For me it’s a battle just to get into the fi eld. Once I’m in, that’s the fun part.” In 15 Senior events, Niger has one top-25 fi nish, with career earnings of $57,999. Yet he is hardly discouraged, falling back on the incremental progress that got him this far. “The process doesn’t change from the time you start playing competitively as a kid,” he says. “You succeed, you move up a level, you get pushed out of your comfort level, you learn to deal with it, you succeed again, and you keep climbing the ladder until you get to the top. There are a ton of mental challenges along the way, and there still are. I feel like I’m just getting comfortable out here. I believe my best golf is still in front of me.” And yet there are times when Niger

fi nds himself stewing in a musty hotel room in a godforsaken suburb worry- ing about his place in the game. It’s tempting to relive the halcyon days of his amateur career, but he resists the urge. “I loved that time, and I think the NCGA runs the greatest amateur program in the country without a doubt,” he says. “I felt very lucky to be in the NCGA and it was important to my development as a player. Hav- ing said that, I don’t want to go back. My goal for the last 30 years has been to play the Champions Tour. I haven’t achieved that to the level I want. I’ve touched it, I’ve tasted it, but I want to live it every week and not just play on fringes. That’s the dream. That’s always been the dream.”

Randy Haag earned low amateur honors at the British Senior Open Championship in 2010 and 2011. He is pictured on the right with with 2011 champion Russ Cochran.

ALAN SHIPNUCK is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and writes two weekly columns for

FALL 2014 / NCGA.ORG / 35


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