The video has been watched more than a million times. Michael Visacki, on the phone with his father, tears flowing down his cheeks.
"I made it," Visacki says, fighting through the tears.
"You did it?" his father asks.
"Oh my, God!"
“It” is Thursday's Valspar Championship. The tears were the result of seven years of hope, frustration, dreams and heartbreak, a nationwide grind through the lowest echelons of pro golf, a journey that finally ended with a spot in a PGA Tour event.
Visacki’s a 27-year-old pro that even journeymen think works too hard. He plays up to 45 tournaments a year, grinding his way through the unromantic ground floors of golf. He’s not getting into the Masters or the U.S. Open without a ticket.
Even so, Visacki’s one of the finest mini-tour players in golf. At first glance, that sounds like damning with very faint praise — if he’s so good, why isn’t he on Tour? — but success in golf involves so much more than just the numbers on a scorecard. You could make a convincing argument that Visacki’s every bit as tough — if not more so — than the players on Tour. They don’t have to worry about where they’ll come up with the money for tournament entry fees. They don’t have to take second jobs to underwrite their dreams. They don’t have the putt-to-pay-the-rent pressure of a mini-tour player.
Visacki’s known that life for most of the last decade. He spent years working all hours at a golf course, then slotting in practice time afterward. In just the last six years, he’s put more than 170,000 miles on his car, a 2010 Honda Accord, driving from his parents’ home in Sarasota to tournaments all over the United States. Show up, take your best shot, move on.
He’s won a lot on the mini-tours — 37 times on the West Florida Tour alone — but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a fat wallet. In his best year, 2018, Visacki earned $68,000 — or about what a 33rd-place finish would have paid at the Masters earlier this month. Entry fees alone are $400 to $600 a week on mini-tours, and if you don’t finish at the very top of the leaderboard, you’re barely breaking even.
“If you miss two or three cuts, you’re down $1,500 in entry fees,” Visacki said Tuesday. “That doesn’t even count practice, paying rent, phone bill, the gas, hoping your car doesn’t break down. Even with my success it’s still hard to make a living.”
Every so often, he would take a run at a Monday qualifier, a win-or-go-home grind that’s as pressure-filled as any major Sunday. Monday qualifiers distill golf to its cruel and beautiful essence: You have no margin for error, but if everything goes just your way, the door to the next level opens wide.
It’s as meritocratic as sports gets — play well and you’re in, no matter who you are. Two of Visacki’s fellow Monday qualifiers at Valspar are 23-year-old Jordan Hahn, who’s listed as “the tallest player in the Valspar field” at 6’8”, and 47-year-old Daniel Chopra, who has two PGA Tour wins and appearances in all four majors.
Visacki splits the difference between the two, bringing years of mini-tour grit to bear. Nowhere was this more evident than on the first hole of a playoff against Chris Baker at Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brooksville, Florida. Whoever won the sudden-death playoff would earn a spot in the Valspar, whoever didn’t would have a quiet drive home. Visacki’s first tee shot kicked, rolled and nestled under a bush, and for a moment, the dream flickered.
He’d been here before. Back in 2018, Visacki was in the second round of Q School, on pace to make the developmental Korn Ferry Tour. But on the 17th hole of his final round, he lost his shot in a tree, carded a double bogey and missed qualifying for the Tour by a single stroke.
Not this day. Visacki didn’t curse his luck. He’d never doubted himself in all the years he’d been playing this infernal game, and he wasn’t about to start now. He knew that if he punched out and got up and down for a par, he’d be able to keep the dream alive for one more hole, so that’s exactly what he did.
On the second playoff hole, Visacki faced another test: a 20-foot putt for the win. “If I make this putt,” he thought, “I’ll be playing in the Valspar.” Then, just as quickly, he pushed that thought out of his mind and focused on his line and his stroke.
The putt rolled true. And when it fell, Visacki raised his arms, then embraced Kaylor Steger, his caddie and longtime friend, the burden of hope and expectation finally lifted.
A few minutes later, the phone call with his father afterward — tearful, halting, so full of joy and relief he could hardly complete a sentence — was the perfect image of a reward for a lifetime of chasing a dream.
“Pops was emotional,” Visacki said. “I’ve never seen him cry so much. We’re not very much of a crying family. This was the first time in a long time we all cried. We knew how much work, effort, blood, sweat, and tears have gone into me trying to make it. To finally do it is a dream come true.”
This week, he’s sharing a locker room with Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and other titans of the game, players who will earn more from the endorsements that run during the broadcast than Visacki earns on the course in a month. Thursday and Friday he’ll tee it up, and if his good fortune and his putter hold, he’ll play into the weekend. Either way, he’s already achieved his dream.
“A lot of people give up on their dreams, probably because they can’t afford it,” Visacki said Tuesday, choking back tears. “I’ve been lucky enough to be with parents, to keep living it.”
Mike and Donna Visacki own a wheelchair and stretcher transport company, and they’ve thrown their entire support behind their son’s dream. They’ve skimped on meals, stretched phone bills, made every sacrifice possible to give him every opportunity to succeed.
“My dad kept pushing me; he knew that I had it,” Visacki said. “He’d say, ‘Keep your head down, keep grinding. I’ve seen what you’re able to do. Just keep knocking on the door and you’ll step in.’ I finally stepped in.”
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