Havre golfing great Nick Obie has gone from a Montana high school state champion to a collegiate All-American to chasing his dream of playing golf on the PGA Tour someday
Nick Obie has a great story about where he grew up playing golf. When Obie moved from Havre to California to attend college and play golf for Redlands University, his teammates and friends could never really understand where he came from. So, after his freshman year at Redlands, Obie brought his head coach, Art Salvesen, and one of his teammates to Havre, and to Beaver Creek Golf Course, where he honed his skills as a talented youth. “I brought my coach and one of my buddies home with me and we played nine holes at Beaver Creek,” Obie said. “It was funny watching them because they were swatting mosquitoes, and it was hot and windy. It was golf in a way they had never really experienced before. “When they got back to California they told everybody they just couldn’t believe that that is where I learned to play golf,” he added. “I mean our course in Havre is a long way from the courses all those guys came up on in Southern California. Down here, everybody is playing these beautiful championship courses by the time they are eight or nine years old. They just couldn’t believe that I got good on a nine-hole course like ours.” But make no mistake about it, BCGC is and will always be Obie’s home course. It is where he made the choice to fall in love with the game of golf. And it is where he made the choice to work hard enough at the game to become a highly successful high school golfer, which in turn took him to the golfing hot bed of California. Now that the 22-year-old Obie is in Southern California permanently and has wrapped up a brilliant four-year career at Redlands, an NCAA Division III school with a quality golf program, he is making even more choices. Obie is facing choices he only dreamed about while hitting golf balls every day on the Brady Bunch-style astroturf driving range at Beaver Creek. Obie has given up his status as an amateur golfer and is playing professional golf on the Spanos Tour, a professional mini tour operated by San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos. The tour runs from February to October and is only played on courses in California. Obie didn’t join the tour until June, after he graduated from Redlands, and he is only playing five events on tour this season. “The way this tour works is you buy into a whole season and there is a limited number of spots each year,” Obie said. “I had a friend who knew a guy who was going to leave the tour early this year, so I was able to buy the remainder of his events for this season.” Even though the Spanos Tour is a long way from Obie’s dream of reaching the pinnacle of the golfing world, the PGA Tour, he is appreciating every second of playing golf for a living. That is probably because of where he came from and where he has been. Obie is, for the most part, a selftaught player. He developed his game in Havre as a youth. He played golf every day, round after round, with his friends, Jason Johnstone, Kevin Harada, Kyle Sheppard and Troy Toner. The group would eventually become the most successful Havre High golf team ever, winning back-to-back state championships in 2001 and 2002. “Most of my biggest influences in golf come from when I was younger,” Obie said. “My parents got me started in golf when I was 7 or 8 years old, and they have always been there for me. They are my biggest supporters, and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now. And my friends and I owe a lot to Jim Kato and Doug Sheppard because they gave us a place to play and they were always helpful with us.
Helpful with us. “Coach (Keith) Evenson is another person who was also a big influence on my game when I was younger,” Obie added. “I was also fortunate to have a great coach in college in coach Salvesen. Actually there are so many people who have helped me through the years that It would take forever to name them all. But I am grateful to everybody who has been there for me along the way.” While Obie may have come from what most people refer to as “grass roots golf,” growing up on a nine-hole course in north-central Montana, it didn’t take long for him to thrive in the ultra-competitive world of collegiate golf in Southern California. He adapted quickly to college golf and college life and had an outstanding freshman year for the Redlands Bulldogs. “The biggest change from high school golf to college golf is that at a tournament in high school, you could look around and see five or 10 guys at the most that could legitimately win a tournament. And I would look at those guys and know that’s who I had to beat,” he said. “In college you get to the driving range at a tournament and every guy there is a good player. Anybody on any team can shoot a score good enough to win. That forced me to stop worrying about what other guys were doing, and focus completely on my own game.” Once Obie did focus on his game, and his alone, things took off for the former HHS standout and his Redlands team. From his sophomore year on, Obie earned conference player of the year honors three times. He was a secondteam all-american in his sophomore season and he earned first-team honors in his junior and senior year. Meanwhile, Obie’s Redlands squads finished second at the NCAA Division III championships three straight seasons, and individually, Obie finished third at the national meet in May. “Nick was a great high school player and we were very fortunate to get him to come here to Redlands,” Salvesen said. “He definitely could have played Division I golf, but he came here for school, and because he could play golf seven days a week, 12 months a year and really develop his game. Nick really lifted our program to the next level, and he is the hardest working player I have coached in my 15 years of coaching golf. He had a great career here and he is a tremendous player and a great person.” While Obie has always been known as a hard worker, and he is relentless about trying to hone is game, he said that the changes in his game from the end of high school to the end of college were subtle, but important. “I worked pretty hard on my game while I was in college,” Obie said. “But I was still a student and I enjoyed college life,” he said. “ I practiced as much as I could, but I also had a social life, and college was a great time in my life. “I think the biggest difference in my game from my freshman year to my senior year is consistency,” he added. “I have always had a good short game and my chipping and putting used to get me around the course. But now I think I am a lot more consistent off the tee and in the fairway. Another big difference in my game is more mental. I can now understand why and what is happening to me and my game during a round or a tournament. I am just a much more consistent player than I used to be.” And somewhere through that process of golf, college and socializing, Obie realized that making an attempt at being a professional golfer was the only choice he had. Not because of a lack of options, because Obie graduated from Redlands with a degree in economics, but because, at least for now, golf is the only thing he truly wants to do with his life. “In high school I always thought I was going to play college golf and go to medical school,” he said. “But my parents always told me that you have to love your career. Somewhere in college that really hit home with me and I realized that I had to take a shot at pro golf. As I spent more time in college experiencing life and other things, I just realized that right now golf is the only thing I love to do.” And so, with a great high school and collegiate career behind him, Obie is now working his way through the difficult and sometimes bizarre world of mini tour golf, where the money isn’t why one plays the game. Obie says that a successful season on the Spanos Tour could earn a player upwards of $100,000. So far in four events, he has finished tied for 43rd, tied for 22nd and missed two cuts. He has earned a little over $3,300. He has one event left on the tour, later this month, and because he only played a small part of the season, he isn’t eligible for the tour championship.
“People who hear that I'm playing golf for a living always want to know immediately how much money I am making, but I tell them that right now that is not why I am out here,” Obie said. “Even though I haven’t made a lot of money, I think I have played pretty well. What I am trying to do is get some good experience. “There are a lot of good players on this tour and I am learning how to play professional golf,” he added. “The competition on this tour is very good, and I am getting valuable experience learning how to play golf for money and learning how to play under a tremendous amount of pressure.” Learning how to play under highpressure situations is exactly what Obie needs, because what’s coming next on his journey into pro golf is as high-pressure and high stakes as it gets. This fall Obie will make his first attempt at navigating one of the most intense golfing experiences on the planet, the PGA Tour Qualifying School. Obie is not just preparing for the event by playing on the Spanos Tour and several events on the Golden State Tour, but he is also working with a renowned golf coach in Carl Welty, a resident of Laquinta, Calif., who has worked with PGA Tour stars like Fred Couples, Craig Stadler and Greg Norman, to name a few. “Carl is a great teacher of the game and his resume is incredible,” Obie said. “He has a library of video on every great golfer in the world and what he does is show you three different swings and then points out one thing that they all do the same and then tries to incorporate that into my swing. He is also a putting genius. When I leave a lesson with him and go out and play, I feel like I’m hitting the ball the best I have since the last time I worked with him. My swing still needs work, but with Carl, I feel like I’m getting there.” And Obie will take all his lessons learned, all through high school, college and from his first summer on a pro tour, to the toughest test in golf, the qualifying school this fall. The Pre-Qualifying stage begins on Sept. 19 and is three rounds long. If Obie makes it through that, there are two more stages, each with four rounds of golf, just to make it to the final stage on Nov. 29, where PGA Tour cards are actually on the line. Ina ll, qualifying school has 30 full-time PGA Tour cards available, and 30 cards for partial time on tour, as well as exemptions on the highly-competitive Nationwide Tour. The price tag for even trying your hand at “Q-School” is $4,500 and Obie knows that the chances of making it, even to the Nationwide Tour his first time out is a long shot. “Q-School is unbelievably brutal and I know that,” Obie said. “I know a guy who has been through it seven times and I know how hard it is and I know it is a real long shot. “But the way I look at it is that there has to be a first time, so I figure why not get that first time out of the way,” he added. “If it doesn’t work out, then I know what to build on. I know what to expect for next time.” And the percentages say that there will be a next time for Obie and hundreds of players just like him. Which is why Obie is looking at life as a professional golfer longterm, and keeping it all in very good perspective. Obie says that if he doesn’t make it through qualifying school, he will prepare to play a full season on the Spanos Tour starting next February. He also said that there are several events in California throughout the winter he can play. Another option may be taking three or four months off from tournament play and really taking the time and effort to build his swing and his game. “There are a lot of different avenues I can take right now,” he said. “I know that I am at least going to give this five full years and at the end of that I’ll sit down and re-evaluate things. But I understand what it takes to make it out here. There aren’t very many guys my age that are jumping right from college to the PGA Tour. Those guys are pretty rare. So I am ready to put in the time and the work and see if I can get there one day.” And one thing is for certain, Obie has been dreaming about where he is at now since he was a teenager, looping Beaver Creek Golf Course day after day in the hot, windy climate of Havre, Mont., with his friends. He has been dreaming of playing golf for a living even while being known as one of the finest high school golfers in Montana. Even though he is now doing what he always dreamed of, he knows he isn't quite there yet. “I used to look at things like I was chasing my dreams,” Obie said. “And now I am actually playing pro golf, so I guess you could say that I am living my dream. But I’m not living my big dream yet. That is still out there somewhere.”