As Woody Austin walked toward his vehicle in the Crestview Country Club parking lot Monday night, a strong south breeze offered some resistance.
At 48, the Derby resident and one of the PGA Tour’s renowned grinders has become accustomed to battling the elements that hinder a golfer trying to stay competitive. But as for the wind that howled on the first two days of preparation for the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open?
Sign Austin up.
“For me to have any chance at a tournament like this, I need it to blow like that,” said Austin, who will play in the Nationwide Tour event at Crestview for the second consecutive year. “Can I get that? I’m not going to shoot 19 under on normal days. I just don’t make enough birdies.
“But if it’s playing tough to where 12 (under) has a good chance, I’d like my chances.”
The weekly scorefests that surface on the Nationwide Tour have never been Austin’s cup of tea. But in his second straight season without full-time PGA Tour playing privileges, Austin has entered the fray with the developmental tour’s young guns more frequently, and experienced some success. He enters the Wichita Open ranked 24th on the Nationwide’s season money list with $77,776.
It’s little more than the almost $68,000 he pocketed by tying for 19th at the FedEx St. Jude Classic June 10 in Memphis, the site of one of his three career PGA Tour victories. But in his first four Nationwide starts this year, Austin reeled off three top-10 finishes, including third at the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta, Ga.
“It’s all about putting, especially out here (on the Nationwide),” Austin said. “It’s about putting everywhere, but out here, everyone goes ballistically low on these golf courses. I had a couple good putting tournaments, so I had a couple good finishes.”
Yet Austin has struggled to establish rhythm in his game without his tour card. His efforts to secure sponsor exemptions in early-season PGA Tour events were unsuccessful. In two of the tournaments he played, Austin missed the 36-hole cut by one shot.
“It’s still way too sporadic,” Austin said. “When I did play, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t do a good job at those first four (PGA Tour) events.”
The Wichita Open will be Austin’s 11th tournament of the year between the two tours. In 2010, Austin’s last full season on the PGA Tour, he had played 16 events by mid-June.
“It’s one thing to hit balls,” Austin said. “It’s one thing to practice. It’s another thing to play in a tournament. Even for the best player of our era, if he doesn’t play in tournaments, it can be a struggle. For someone like myself who’s a lot older and has a lot more struggles, I need to play as much as he does.”
Austin played in four Nationwide tournaments last year, his first starts on the developmental tour since 1999. His best finish came at Crestview, where he tied for 35th.
“I’ve played out here (on the Nationwide) more than last year,” Austin said. “I’m kind of at the crossroads of the season right now. It’s the time of the year when I should get one or two more (PGA) Tour starts in the next month and a half. Hopefully I can play well this week or next week, and really buoy me one way or another so I can make a decision which tour to play.”
Mother Nature could lend a hand in helping Austin find success in this Wichita Open. While he doesn’t regard Crestview as a true shot maker’s course, he said it can be transformed that way.
“It does become one if it blows 40 miles an hour,” Austin said. “That’s the defense that I need and that’s the defense that the course needs to keep it from going low.”