BY MIKE FIELDS
Ashton Van Horne is chasing his dream of one day playing on the PGA TOUR, and the latest leg of that chase is trying to qualify for next week’s Barbasol Championship.
Van Horne, who’s from Georgetown, took a step toward that goal Tuesday by surviving a Pre-Qualifier at the University Club of Kentucky.
Van Horne shot a 3-under par 69 on the Big Blue course, which was good enough to put him among the top 25 finishers (out of 140) who advanced to the Open Qualifier at Boone’s Trace in Richmond on Monday.
The top four finishers at Boone’s Trace get to tee it up in the $3.5 million Barbasol Championship July 19-22 at Champions at Keene Trace. (About 100 players will be shooting for those coveted four spots.)
Van Horne, 24, worked a couple summers at Champions at Keene Trace when he was in college, and he’s a now a club member. So it would be pretty special if he could make his PGA TOUR debut on that familiar turf.
“It’d be a great experience,” he said. “And it’d be even better being at home. It’d be really exciting.”
But Van Horne is a golf realist, too. He knows he’s a long shot to qualify for the Barbasol Championship, but he trusts the process that is part and parcel of reaching the PGA TOUR.
The 6-foot-6 Van Horne has full status on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour this season. After playing in the first five events up north, the 2016 Kentucky Open champion had already planned to return home this week to attend a friend’s wedding. So it fit his schedule to play in Tuesday’s Pre-Qualifier.
If he doesn’t earn a ticket to Champions at Keene Trace, he’ll head back to Canada for a tournament in Toronto next week.
“Getting on the Canadian tour was a big step for me,” the Belmont University graduate said. “I learned a lot the first month I was up there . . . like how to travel and how to play week in and week out.
“I still have a lot more to learn, but I feel good about my game. I know I have to keep getting more experience and more rounds under my belt, but I feel great about the trajectory of my career.”
For most players trying to get to the PGA TOUR, there are more valleys than peaks, more lows than highs.
“It’s easy to get frustrated so it’s important to stay positive and keep a good perspective,” Van Horne said. “Everything you do is an opportunity to be more prepared and to get a little bit better. For me, always having a good outlook, a good mindset is part of that.”
And part of that is encouraging friends who are pursuing the same goal.
One of those friends is fellow Scott County graduate Kyle Wilshire, who roomed with Van Horne in Orlando last winter when they were both competing on Florida’s mini-tour circuit.
Wilshire also played in Tuesday’s Pre-Qualifier at the U-Club. He was one of the early finishers, and his 2-under 70 held a spot in the top 25 throughout the day. But by the time the last golfer putted out Tuesday evening, Wilshire had been bumped to 26th place and out of Monday’s Open Qualifier.
Wilshire, 25, said disappointment is part of golf. The Central Florida graduate already has played two years on the Mackenzie Tour and one on the Web.com Tour, so he’s experienced the good and bad that comes with the grind.
“Sadly, there’s a lot more downs than ups in golf,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to ride that roller coaster and continue to get better. If you can do that you can have a sustainable career.”
Van Horne has found that it helps his own outlook if he cares about how his buddies are doing in their quest to reach golf’s big time.
“I think it’s healthy to keep in touch with them and root for them,” he said. “That makes it not so much about me all the time. When they play well, that’s an opportunity for me to be happy, and I try to feed off those good vibes.”
And if it happens that Van Horne qualifies for the Barbasol Championship next week, there’ll be lots of good vibes.”