Michael O’Neal: PGA Tour Hopeful
Jacksonville native Michael O’Neal, a 2004 Bishop Kenny High School graduate and local golf talent, hopes to one day gain PGA Tour status.
While the road may be long and sometimes rocky, O’Neal is grinding away on the golf course to make his PGA dream come true.
Currently, the 23-year-old, 2008 University of North Florida (UNF) graduate plays on the National Golf Association’s (NGA) Hooters Tour.
Although O’Neal has played in eight Hooters tournaments this season and has missed the cuts, his passion for golf has not wavered.
With each experience, he aims to make weekly progress on his golf game. And, with very few off-days, O’Neal’s aim is focused at the bull’s eye. While still humble, he’s proud of his progress.
As we talked over lunch, O’Neal only complained about the travel, which he typically does alone by car. There is nothing fancy about it.
During a three-week trek in June, he drove 12 hours to Tunica, Mississippi; 6½ hours to Miami, Oklahoma; and one hour to Bentonville, Arkansas. The drive home to Jacksonville was a grueling 16½ hours, plenty of time to reflect on his game.
He realistically summed it up when he emphasized that “life isn’t as glamorous as it seems (on the Tour), but it’s still fun.” It’s fun because he awaits that special moment of success.
Unfortunately, the driving to different Tour stops has placed a toll on O’Neal’s back. During the Tour’s three-week hiatus, O’Neal was in Jacksonville where he was visiting a chiropractor every other day to ease his back pains.
The nose-to-the-grindstone O’Neal begins his days with a morning swim for added flexibility. He also surfs in his limited free time. He says the pool laps and surfing keep him in shape when he’s not swinging his Ping driver.
O’Neal continuously stressed that he wouldn’t be where he is without the strong support of his family and friends as well as the San Jose Country Club members who sponsor him. His appreciation for their support is readily apparent.
In between bites of his chips with queso, O’Neal spoke of his father’s advice to him: after middle school, choose one sport.
Those words of advice sunk in with the younger O’Neal, and he decided to drop basketball, soccer and every other ball sport for golf. It was beneficial advice.
O’Neal turned his typical “summer sport” of golf into his true love.
As a four-year starter on the Bishop Kenny High School golf team, O’Neal surprisingly received only one scholarship offer to play Division I golf – by the University of North Florida (UNF). As it played out, it was a blessing.
He confidently says the pairing of himself and UNF couldn’t have been better. It was meant to be, and laid a solid foundation for his golf career.
However, O’Neal, the 2007-08 UNF Male Athlete of the Year, realizes that becoming a PGA Tour regular “is not an overnight thing.”
His “close calls,” (missing back-to-back tournament cuts by only one stroke) as he likes to describe them, are signs that “it’ll (a consistent golf game) eventually come around” soon.
Because of his outstanding amateur resume, O’Neal is exempt from qualifying at all NGA Hooters Tour events this season.
Clearly, he appreciates the overall physical and mental maneuvering that comes with the territory.
But, he stays focused on his weekly progress. O’Neal commented that his “game is there.” In his eyes, improvements to his putting and short game are musts. That is where he concentrates, along with consistent progress.
His work is never done off the course. Along with his daily swims, O’Neal reads Golf Digest and golf books to stay mentally prepared.
In talking to him, it’s immediately noticeable that his head is on straight. I could see the determination and fire in his eyes. He’s mentally and physically prepared to enter the next phase.
His ultimate goal is the PGA Tour, but he has focused on one day playing in The Players Championship at Sawgrass in front of the family and friends who have continuously stood by him.
And, certainly, O’Neal is gracious when he speaks of his sponsors at the San Jose Country Club, and his father who gave him the advice to choose one sport.
For O’Neal, choosing golf proved to be the right decision. It is his passion.
O’Neal understands that he has a journey ahead of him. But, he has shown that he enjoys the challenges and is focused on continuing to prepare both physically and mentally.
Failure is not an option. It’s all about progress, the drive to succeed and making the cut. He’s ever so close.
And, hopefully, when he tees it up on No. 17 at the Stadium Course in front of thousands of fans in the near future, he’ll fully understand that those “close calls” were closer than he could have ever imagined.
So, remember the name of this local golf talent, this PGA Tour hopeful: Michael O’Neal. He just may be our next local PGA player.