PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- A day after he qualified for his first PGA Tour event and saw an emotional video go viral in which he told his father about the feat, Michael Visacki still had difficulty grasping the reality of his situation.
A longtime mini-tour player who said he has logged some 170,000 miles in a 2010 Honda Accord over the past several years chasing his golf dreams made it into the $6.9 million Valspar Championship when he holed a 20-foot birdie putt Monday in a sudden-death playoff to gain the last spot in the field.
Visacki, 27, will tee it up Thursday morning at 9:07 a.m. at the Innisbrook's Copperhead course about an hour north of his home in Sarasota.
Asked why he believed his story resonated so much, he again got emotional during a conference call with reporters.
"Just a lot of people give up on their dreams, probably because they can't afford it," Visacki said. "But I've been lucky enough to be with my parents and be able [for them] to help me out sometimes to keep living it."
"I made it." ❤️— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 26, 2021
Michael Visacki fights back tears as he tells his father that he's reached a lifelong goal of competing on the PGA TOUR.
He successfully Monday-Qualified for the @ValsparChamp. pic.twitter.com/5ci5L1KoLp
Visacki offers a stark reminder that professional golf is typically far from private jets, swanky hotels and huge endorsement deals.
A former college player at Central Florida, Visacki has toiled on various mini tours, which 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.
Before this week, Visacki's only other foray into PGA Tour golf was on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour, where he Monday-qualified for the 2018 KC Golf Classic and tied for 27th. His payday: $4,590, which was among his best of the year.
Visacki said he made approximately $68,000 that year playing in various golf tournaments, but given $400 to $500 in entry fees, travel, food, caddie fees ... there wasn't much left.
A prolific winner on the various mini tours, Visacki 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. He finished eighth in the circuit's last winter event, which ended on April 19, and won $250 in the last paying spot. The winner received $1,300. (The winner at this week's Valspar will get $1,242,000; eighth place pays $215,625, with 50th place earning more than $17,000.)
"You barely break even, and then it's not like every week is a free entry fee and we're just playing for a prize," Visacki said. "If you miss two or three cuts, you're down $1,500 in entry fees, let alone practicing, paying rent, phone bill, electricity, gas ... hopefully car's not going to break down. Even with all my success, it's still very, very hard to make a living."
Two years ago, Visacki missed getting Korn Ferry Tour status by one shot. He lost a ball on the 17th hole of the final round of an event that would have gotten him to the final stage of the qualifying tournament, assuring him status.
That was a long drive home, he said.
On Monday, in a four-spot qualifier at nearby Southern Hills Plantation Club, Visacki was tied for the final qualifying spot after shooting 67. That meant a sudden-death playoff for the final spot. This time, he hit his tee shot into a bush but was able to play the ball out into the fairway, and from 107 yards, get it up and down for par to survive.
He then won with that 20-footer for birdie on the next hole, leading to an emotional moment with his caddie, Kaylor Steger, and then later via FaceTime with his father, Michael.
"It's still shocking. A dream come true," Visacki said. "To be able to tee it up in my first PGA Tour event."