Pair ready to take game to a pro level

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Rich Beem's victory in the PGA Championship definitely provided a boost to his career and demonstrated how far a person can go if he has the talent, dedication and financial support to pursue a dream.

Not only did he secure his place on the PGA Tour, he promoted the art of dreaming.

For former Southeast Missouri State University golfers Jason Owen and Bryan Johnson, the events of the past weekend reinforced the direction they want to travel -- professional golf.

Owen and Johnson want to make a serious professional run by joining the Hooters Tour next year, which has about 25 events ranging from Florida, up the East Coast and into the Midwest.

Both work at Arena Golf in Cape Girardeau and the pair is plotting out a course for a professional run. They hope to follow a similar course as Beem, who found 30 sponsors who believed in his talent enough to combine for $80,000 of financial support to put him out on the PGA Tour.

"That's what I'm looking for," said Owen of the sponsorship. "Anybody that has watched me play golf or watched me hit a golf ball, you can tell I strike the ball as well as any of those guys. It's a matter of getting it right in my head and putting the golf ball."

The pair hopes to raise in the range of $50,000 to $60,000 to pursue their dream.

"That's what I've always wanted to do," Johnson said. "I've been pretty successful at every level I've played at. I think it's at least time to go out and try it and see if I can. I would feel like all the golf I've played since I was 7 years old would have been in vain, because my dream always has been to at least try to make it as a professional. If it would have been just to play college golf, then that would have been it."Previous success

Both have had distinguished amateur careers. Johnson, who graduated last spring with a degree in business communication, won four collegiate events at Southeast and has reached the semifinals in the past two Missouri Amateur Championships.

Johnson says competition is a must in order to improve as a golfer, but said both would be in over their heads trying to qualify for the PGA Tour at this point in time.

"I think both of us need that step between the college experience we had and the PGA Tour," Johnson said.

Owen won seven individual tournament titles at Southeast, including four his senior year. He received a degree in sports management in 2000 and promptly turned pro and spent time traveling with the Hooters Tour. He met with some success and earned a tour card. He played in nine Hooters events and made the cut three times. He also qualified as an alternate for the U.S Open in 2000, but never made the field.

He attempted 16 professional tournaments last year, traveling virtually coast to coast, and managed to qualify for one Buy.com event in five Monday qualifying attempts.

"That sounds low, but it's exceptionally good," Owen noted. "They're hard to get in."

He also finished fifth in the Iowa Open.

But after two years of getting his feet wet in professional golf, he's taken time off to evaluate his game. He's spent a low-key summer at Arena Golf giving lessons and working on his own game, which often involves Johnson. He's improved his wedge play dramatically, going from miserable to "getting up and down from my mailbox."

"I've spent more time working on my golf game," said Owen. "Just staying at home and just trying to mature. For the most part, everyone that makes it is in their late 20s and early 30s. And I'm just 25. So I've just been spending time working on my golf game and trying to get my head right."The team approach

The former teammates have every intention of remaining a team. They plan to travel together to lessen the financial burden, as well as lend moral support and professional assistance.

"I just think it would be real good for the both of us," Johnson said. "He didn't like the being alone, which is understandable. And on my part with him, he's been there and done that. He can show me this is what we need to do. It would be the ideal situation."

Their goal is to play a complete year on a tour, which Owen has yet to do. The pair plans to participate in a Hooters Tour qualifying tournament in Georgia in November.

"I'm putting all my eggs in one basket, so to speak," Owen said. "I'm laying it all on the line. I might as well get going with it now. If I make it fine. If I don't, I'll go on to other things in life. Bryan is a couple years younger than me and still has some other options to think about. I don't know, I feel at 25, that's not old by no means, but you're not going to hang onto the dream forever."

If they qualify, they plan to begin the Hooters Tour in February and play through October.

"To be honest it's a money issue," Owen said. "If we get the money together in time we'll go down this winter."

jbreer@semissourian.com

(573) 335-6611, extension 124

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