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This is where it all begins

Local qualifiers give golfers the chance to play out their dreams.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


WEEKI WACHEE -- Golf, and the dreams it fosters, brought Joey Ludeman to Florida.

It helped convince him to leave his parents' home in Northern Virginia and drive his clubs, his hopes and his life 1,000 miles south at age 18.

If he was going to make a life out of the sport, this is where it would start.

Six years later, after countless lessons given, rounds played and tables waited, Ludeman has a chance to make it worthwhile as one of nine golfers with Hernando County ties who either have or will participate in U.S. Open local qualifiers.

None of the three county residents to play qualifiers so far have advanced.

The United States Golf Association generally allows one golfer for every 15 participants to advance to sectional play -- one step from the Open -- so it won't be easy. That's part of the allure.

"Anyone is eligible, and that's what makes it great," Ludeman said. "It could be you and the best in the world. As a kid, you always go out on the putting green and say, "He needs an 8-foot putt to beat Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open.' That's how I used to practice.

"I mean, you play three good rounds, and your life is going to change," Ludeman said.

Just like in 1996, when he talked his mother and father, Diane Zahand and Michael Ludeman, into letting him relocate from Brentsville, Va., to Spring Hill. His only friendly face in the area was his uncle, Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief J.J. Morrison.

"I didn't have to help him out much at all," Morrison said.

"He's a very resourceful young man. He came into the area and said he wanted to be a golf pro, and I said I didn't think there was very much demand for a pro of his age. Boy, did he prove me wrong."

Eventually.

Ludeman, who had been an assistant pro back home, began taking courses to become a teaching professional, but the only greens he ran in his first job were in Caesar salads.

"Olive Garden was my first job," Ludeman said. "I was going to the golf courses on my days off.

"It was worth it to me to play golf all year 'round because I really wanted to better myself and become a pro. I figured there was no better place to be."

In August of 1997, former Glen Lakes head professional Scott Enck gave in and offered him his first job in the Florida golf industry as an assistant pro.

Now first assistant at Glen Lakes and in a professionals' training program, Ludeman helps oversee the junior league Enck helped establish.

Ludeman knows what it's like to get close in an Open qualifier. Last year, in his first attempt as a professional, he missed being an alternate by one stroke at World Woods.

After a summer playing on the North Atlantic Tour, Ludeman thinks he is more prepared -- and more determined.

"I think my tournament readiness is a lot better this time," he said. "And I don't think this one is about pressure as much as it is about redemption."

Ludeman, Michael Dono III (Spring Hill), Job Levesque and Jerry Heard (Brooksville) will play their 18-hole qualifier Monday at Grasslands Golf & Country Club in Lakeland. Ludeman chose that course because he won a North Florida PGA Pro/Am series event there April 15.

Levesque, 29, wants to prove to everyone he is among his peers when he tees off.

An assistant manager at a local supermarket, he hopes to qualify for sectional play as much as anyone. Still, he has a fallback goal after shooting 81 and finishing far back last year at World Woods in his first Open qualifier.

"If you shoot eight strokes over the course rating, they don't ask you to come back because they try to keep the hackers out," said Levesque, a 1.2 handicap. "So my realistic goal is to shoot right around par -- not 8-over -- play solid, and let them know I belong out there."

Levesque, a 1992 Central High School grad and former All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference golfer, is making his bid for bigger things this year.

He plans to participate in the U.S. Amateur Championship on August 19-25 at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship on July 15-20 at The Orchards Golf Club in Washington, Mich.

"I've played in a lot of scrambles and stuff around here," he said, "but as far as a greatest golf moment, I don't have one."

Perhaps he soon will.

Heard, 55, has plenty.

A touring pro from 1969-80, he was the winner of five PGA tournaments -- the Florida Citrus Open (1972 and 1974), American Golf Classic (1971), Colonial National Invitational (1972), and Atlanta Classic (1978) and had top-five finishes in the Masters, U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

He now is on the management side of the green as president and chief executive officer of Silverthorn Country Club in Brooksville. His PGA career suffered after he, Lee Trevino and Bobby Nichols were struck by lightning at the 1975 Western Open.

Heard's best finish on the Senior PGA Tour was tied for 45th in 1998 at the AT&T Canada Senior Open Championship.

That kind of gaudy record is in the dream stage for Ludeman. But he's pursued it too long to relent now.

"There's a lot of guys out there with talent," Ludeman said. "The thing is, you have to believe in yourself and do the best you can."

-- Staff writer Brant James can be reached at (800) 333-7505 or

brant@sptimes.com.

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