Not everyone gets a second chance to pursue a lifelong passion. But that’s the opportunity Tim O’Neal has received, and he intends to take full advantage of it.
O’Neal is in the field this week for the Korn Ferry Tour’s Savannah Golf Championship at the Landings Club – Deer Creek Course un Savannah, Georgia. He earned an exemption into the tournament because of his hometown status as well as his past Korn Ferry experience, and will be competing for part of a $600,000 purse.
The Savannah native won the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour Lexus Cup Points Race for this second time this summer with his consistent play on both sides of the COVID-19 shutdown. O’Neal was victorious at the APGA Tour at Farmers Insurance Open in January, and again in July at the APGA Tour at Dubsdread. He finished third or higher in each of the Lexus Cup Tournaments and ended the season with 1,858 points to show for it.
“I’m playing better now, so I’m hoping to give myself a chance on Sunday,” said O’Neal, who had a number of solid seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour back when it was called the Nationwide Tour. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work and it showed in the APGA tournaments. I knew I had a chance to win the Lexus Cup again.”
O’Neal, 48, has been working to secure his PGA Tour card for more than two decades. He owns over 150 Korn Ferry Tour starts and three wins on the PGA Tour Latinoamérica: Two in 2013 and one in 2016. Twice, he came within a shot of earning PGA Tour membership in Q school. The promised land remains out of reach for now, but O’Neal does not lose sleep over the missed opportunities of the past.
“Golf’s hard,” he spoke candidly over the phone. “I missed (going straight to the PGA Tour) twice by one shot. I don’t want to say it’s been a lot of adversity. I guess, a lot of it’s not playing well when I needed to. I’ve been very close. All in all, I’ve definitely had my bumps in the road, but I’m still positive about it and still grinding.”
At times, it has certainly been a grind for the Jackson State alum, who played in several Moroccan mini-tour events in 2012 to bolster his struggling finances. Next came a divorce in 2014, which resulted in O’Neal sharing custody of two teenaged children with his ex-wife. Amid such turmoil, the APGA has been a lifeline, both financially and otherwise.
Since its beginnings in 2010, the Advocates Pro Golf Association has endeavored to give talented minority golfers an affordable way to compete in the sport they love. Ken Bentley helped found the APGA, and he explained to Golf.com that his organization aims to help players put their money-related worries to bed.
“A lot of our players are close to making the tour,” said Bentley, a former Nestle executive. “A big part of what’s holding them back is finances. I want a couple of guys from our tour to be able to make enough money so that the next year they won’t have to worry about money the following year. We’re trying to raise the purses so that we can take money out of the equation.”
O’Neal is one of many who appreciate the APGA’s modest entry fees and generosity in helping its athletes foot medical and transportation bills.
“Mr. Bentley and his staff, they want everyone to play,” he said. “When guys might be struggling to get to tournaments, they’re more than willing to help guys that are really working hard, to give them opportunities to play.”
Speaking of opportunity, O’Neal has a good one ahead of him this week. While the Korn Ferry Tour is a ways away from the big show, it is a proving ground where rising stars like Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris have honed their craft in the past. O’Neal isn’t getting any younger, but every solid Korn Ferry outing he has could bring him one step closer to realizing his dream.
In 2018, O’Neal qualified for the Savannah Golf Championship but allowed a first-round lead to slip away as he finished T-62 that week. The Georgian has a chance to redeem himself on home soil, and he will do everything possible to achieve that goal.
“It’s always good to play home,” he said. “I’m familiar with the golf course. I’m just going to try to go out there and play my game, and have some fun too. It definitely would mean a lot to have a good showing and just play well for my friends and family.”