Amid long journey, Habig holds strong

Jason Clark/Evansville Courier and Press
Jasper native Josh Habig sank a putt on hole No. 18 during the second round of the Web.com Tour’s United Leasing Championship golf tournament at Victoria National in Newburgh last Friday. The two-time academic All-American at Northwestern missed the cut by six strokes.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

After striking a drive down the fairway of Victoria National’s ninth hole, Josh Habig connected on an approach shot he figured would leave him with a challenging birdie putt, at worst. The Jasper native sat at 1-over par at the time, and figured entering Day 2 around even par would position him quite nicely going forward at last week’s Web.com Tour’s United Leasing Championship in Newburgh.

The birdie putt didn’t arrive. The ball, tugged ever so slightly, found water. After a pitch attempt from grippingly thick rough came out hot, Habig’s shot plunged into water once again. Once he found the green and putted out, Habig penciled an “8” on the par-5.

“It kind of blew up all at once,” he recalled.

He finished the opening round at plus-4, struggled to furnish momentum last Friday and missed the cut by six strokes, finished with a two-day total of 151.

A top finish at the tournament could have granted the two-time academic All-American at Northwestern an exemption onto the PGA’s developmental tour, the level Habig, 36, has been striving to reach since turning pro 10 years ago.

He thinks back to No. 9, but only for a moment. If there’s anything he’s learned from his golf experiences — ones that have sent him to compete on four continents — it’s that dwelling on missed shots, would-be breaks and squandered opportunities won’t get a golfer anywhere.
Next shot.

“Always staying positive,” Habig said of his most valued lesson. “Golf is a game that can really beat you down, regardless of who you are. You’ll fail more than you succeed. The only way to get the most going forward is to latch onto those successes.”

For Habig, the triumphs have arrived in droves over the past decade. Since joining the Canadian Tour (now called PGA Tour Canada) in 2003, he kept his tour exemption each year and has had at least one top-10 finish each of the past seven years, including his first Canadian Tour triumph at the 2006 MTS Classic in Winnipeg. He collected three top-10 finishes in both 2010 and 2011 and tied for fourth at The Players Cup in 2012.

When he arrived in Newburgh last week, it was the first time Habig had played in the Hoosier state in almost 10 years, by his estimations. He received one of the two sponsor exemptions given at Web.com Tour events, allowing him the chance to play some 50 miles from his hometown, supported at the course by his parents, Doug and Nancy, as well as friends, high school teammates and family who traveled from Dubois County to offer support.

For not making the cut, Habig expressed regret. Yet it also reinforced a truth that’s become more and more apparent to Habig as rounds have passed.

“Any time you get a chance to make a start out there, it’s great,” Habig said of his appearances at Web.com and PGA Tour events. “It opens your eyes not only to where you want to get but how close the skill level is between where you are and where you want to get. There’s not a lot of difference.

“You realize how close you are.”

How close has Habig come to getting that Web.com Tour exemption, his goal for the past who knows how many years? As close as a single stroke.

Habig reflected on one of his attempts at qualification through the PGA Tour’s Q-School, a frenzied late-season gush of tournaments that allots top-scoring competitors a coveted exemption to superior tours. One year, Habig missed qualifying for the school’s final stage by one stroke.

“One of the most depressing Thanksgivings I’ve ever had,” Habig said of returning home afterward.

“That was tough to swallow.”

However, the PGA Tour Canada now bases exemption qualifying off the entire season, a fuller body of evidence that should suit Habig well. He’s finished outside the top 20 at tournaments just once in the last two seasons and hasn’t missed a cut in three years.

“Your game goes through ebbs and flows,” said Habig, who plays in about 20 to 25 three- to four-round tournaments each year, divided between the Canadian tour, the Web.com Tour and various other tournaments. “The last few years have been the most consistent of my career.
“I’m realizing more and more how much I belong.”

Yet Habig is beginning to contemplate how much longer his professional days will continue. He still lives in San Diego with his wife, Jennifer (Oser), and has been taking some months off in the offseason to escape golf altogether. He’s relished in an exploration of the coastal metropolis’ live music scene, rediscovered the piano and is considering a return to the classroom in pursuit of studying behavioral economics. There are more pressing matters as well.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in San Diego that’s lived there and not tried to surf,” he joked.

Yet leaving the professional arena also will mean waving goodbye to “the whole situation,” as Habig refers to it. Meeting players and personalities at each stop, splitting hotels and refining the science and perhaps art of life on the road. The wandering linksman.

He’s chipped out of bunkers in Canada, replaced divots in Mexico, birdied in South America, hunted pars in Europe and launched drives in Australia. It’s been up and down. He’s lost. He’s won. Yet every time, he’s learned, and continued striving in hopes of that big break.

“You learn a lot more from mistakes than from successes, really,” he said while en route to his Wednesday practice round at the Dakota Dunes Open in Saskatchewan. “It’s the awareness to make sure you’re taking something from it.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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