Tour grind awaits Moore after U.S. Open

PINEHURST, N.C. – A month ago, the most celebrated amateur player since El Tigre carried a Stanford bag opened his wallet and discovered a grand total of $12. This stunned Ryan Moore.

"I usually don't have any
cash," said the UNLV senior, who spends exactly zero dollars on haircuts (a teammate does the clipping) and was tooling around Vegas that May night in his beloved '95 Monte Carlo, the one with 64,000 miles on the odometer.

Moore will be broke for at least one more ROUND, three tops, depending on how he does here at the U.S. Open. This is Moore's final tournament as an amateur, and if he shoots another 5-over-par 75, as he did Thursday in the Kenmore dryer-hot conditions of Pinehurst's No. 2, he'll miss the cut and that will be that. Then he can start depositing the endorsement deal money and make his way to the Barclays Classic at Westchester next week for his pro debut.

"I'm excited about it," he said. "It's something I've been looking forward to for a long time. And it's about to happen in about three days."

Yawn, right? Another college hotshot (cue video of Hank Kuehne, babe magnet Ricky Barnes, etc.) tries to make his bones on the hardest tour on the planet. What else is new?

Except that Moore owns more hardware than your local Home Depot. All he did in 2004 was win a version of the non-pro Grand Slam: the U.S. Amateur, the NCAA championship, the Western Amateur, and the U.S. Public Links. Nobody since the birth of bad golf shirts has done that, and only the great Jack Nicklaus won three of those four tournaments in the same year.

No wonder Nicklaus once walked up to Moore at a Masters practice round and said: "I know who you are. You won everything."

Everyone in golf knows who Moore is. Not since Tiger Woods made his tour debut in 1996 (has it been that long?) has a player had this sort of pre-pro buzz. Moore finished in a tie for 13th at the recent Masters and would have won $135,333 if he weren't Joe College. A film crew has been shadowing him for a documentary on his transition from amateur to play-for-pay. And the Nevada governor and lawmakers recently honored him with a ceremony and proclamation at the state capital in Reno.

Moore will get seven tournament exemptions for the remainder of 2005. In essence, invitation freebies. But the only way he earns one of those prized tour cards for 2006 is to win a tournament or finish in the top 125 on the money list. Good luck. The last college player to do that was – ta-da – Tiger.

Brandt Snedeker can relate (sort of) to Moore's situation. Snedeker, a Vanderbilt man, won the 2003 Pub Links, played as an amateur in the Masters (he stayed in Augusta National's cramped, but very exclusive Crow's Nest), and then turned pro. He won PGA Tour pocket change ($54,215), missed out on a Q-School Tour card, and now honorably grinds away on the Nationwide Tour, the Triple-A of U.S. pro golf.

By virtue of his U.S. Amateur win, Moore received an automatic invitation to the Open this week. Snedeker had to gut it out through local and then sectional qualifying. He shot 79 Thursday, though he did record the first birdie of the tournament and was in the same threesome as co-leader Olin Browne.

"I think I'm going to be seeing red flags in my nightmares tonight," said Snedeker, referring to the small flags course marshals use to mark a ball in the rough.

Snedeker was a seasoned amateur and a college grad when he turned pro. But there's a difference between making a putt to beat Mississippi State and making a living. The tour doesn't care who you used to be, or how many letters you've got on your varsity sweater.

"He's in a unique situation," Snedeker says as he stands only a few feet away from Moore's engraved locker in the Pinehurst clubhouse. "Next to Tiger, he's had the best amateur career in the last 20, 30 years."

But now Moore has to deal with agents, equipment reps and reporters (he changed his cell number not long ago). He has to deal with travel, with loneliness and with the mind-numbing down time.

"It's hard to find your niche as a young player," Snedeker says. "You feel like an outsider when you're first out there."

The tour is 200-plus independent contractors all trying to squeeze their way into the trophy presentation photo that has room for just one player. It isn't a profession for the weak. Maybe that's why Moore is surrounding himself with familiar faces. One of his best friends will caddie for him. His brother is managing him. His dad will be a frequent visitor on the road.

"I guess I'm fortunate that way," he said.

Meanwhile, Snedeker is 20th on the Nationwide Tour money list, which means if the season ended today, he'd get a PGA Tour card. But it doesn't end today. It doesn't end for months. He has the skills to get there, but talent doesn't mean a thing without timing. Moore will learn that soon enough.

"You can have all the promise in the world, but if you don't play well when it counts ..." Snedeker says, his voice trailing off. "There are no guarantees."

Snedeker loves Moore's game, but says, "there are no guarantees." Vijay Singh spent years in mini-tour obscurity before emerging as a star. Even Tiger has scuffled. Moore will do the same.

"I wish Ryan the best," Snedeker says. "I think he'll do it."

History isn't on Moore's side. And Thursday's 75 in the first round wasn't exactly a keeper. But the clock on Moore's pro career doesn't start until the moment his U.S. Open ends.

Until then, you hope he enjoys the innocence of only having 12 bucks in his wallet.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.