DUBLIN, Ohio — A viral video that caught the emotion of a mini-tour golfer who had qualified for his first PGA Tour event moved Justin Thomas enough to want to offer his support. Not just in the form of encouragement, but money. As in a check he handed to Michael Visacki last week at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
Thomas, 28, the third-ranked golfer in the world who has 14 PGA Tour victories, was not exactly thrilled that word of his gift got out. Thomas had planned to make the donation quietly.
Visacki, who qualified for the Valspar Championship on Monday of tournament week, was captured by a PGA Tour video photographer calling his dad with the news and then breaking down. Like many, Thomas saw the video and introduced himself to Visacki that week.
Thomas explained the reason for his generosity on Wednesday at the Memorial Tournament.
“I just felt it was so refreshing and great to see and how genuine his excitement and emotions were,” Thomas said at Muirfield Village Golf Club. “I don’t know Mike. I met him at Valspar. I just went up and said congrats on getting in. It’s a great story. I just thought it was awesome because he’s been playing the mini-tours for a long time and people now knew who he was because of his story.
“For some reason it hit home to me, and it just was like, this is a dude who’s been grinding for a long time and there’s a lot of people that are doing that. But I just wanted to help in a little way, and what I’m most happy about is the recognition he has got.”
Neither Thomas nor Visacki would disclose the amount, but Visacki, reached by phone Wednesday, said “it takes a little pressure off me, let’s put it like that. I can go out and focus on golf and not worry about some of my bills or other things like that. I can play my game and not put pressure on myself.
“I had no idea what he was going to do. I just thought we were having a normal conversation. I am very grateful for what he did for me.”
A seven-year pro who has spent the majority of his time logging thousands of miles playing various mini-tours for little prize money, Visacki made it into the Valspar Championship, which was held April 29 to May 2 in Florida, when he holed a 20-foot birdie putt to earn the last spot in the field via a sudden-death playoff in a Monday qualifier.
A former college player at Central Florida, Visacki’s forays on the mini-tours are glorified gambling events. You put up an entry fee, with only a few spots getting paid enough to come out with a profit. In essence, you are playing for your own money.
Prior to the Valspar and last week’s Charles Schwab Challenge, his only other PGA Tour experience was on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour, where he qualified on Monday for the 2018 KC Golf Classic and tied for 27th. His payday: $4,590, which was among his best of the year.
Visacki, who lives in Sarasota, Florida, said he made about $68,000 that year playing in various golf tournaments but, given $400 to $500 in entry fees, travel, food and caddie fees, there wasn’t much left.
He has 37 victories, alone, on something called the West Florida Tour. It is a tour comprising tournaments on the west coast of Florida, with the idea that players can drive to them and not leave home.
Because of his story at the Valspar, Charles Schwab tournament officials wanted to give him a sponsor’s exemption, and Charles Schwab himself called to extend the offer. Visacki missed the cut in both PGA Tour events he played but has plans to try to qualify for others this summer as well as write letters for other invites.
His plans also include going to the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, which involves three stages of qualifying, in an effort to get his playing privileges for next year on the developmental tour.
“I know Q-School’s expensive; I know playing in these events are expensive and, like any little way I can help out, I want to,” said Thomas. “And I want to be helpful more than just money. … I told him, I’m like, ‘Dude, any time you …’ — he lives in Florida and we were going to play some golf together — but I just was like, ‘Hey, dude, if you ever want advice, if you ever want to pick my brain, you ever just want to talk, like, I’m here for you. I’m happy to help.’ I was very fortunate to have some great mentors and people willing to help me growing up, and if it’s a difference of him playing on mini-tours or getting his Korn Ferry card the next year, then … that means more to me than any amount of money I could ever give him or anybody. ”