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HAMMOCK: Dacula's Rau aims to build on PGA Tour debut

A few weeks ago, Nate Rau experienced one of those moments in life where it’s virtually impossible to hide a massive grin.

The 2005 Dacula grad was moments from an enormous personal breakthrough — he had qualified for the Sanderson Farms Championship — and couldn’t hide the emotion about his first-ever PGA Tour event.

“Like I told one of my buddies on the way (to the tourney), I am literally living the dream,” the 26-year-old said. “Walking in to get registered, I was laughing the whole way over there. I mean, it’s everything I’ve worked for.”

And there was plenty of work.

After Rau played college golf at Truett-McConnell, Darton and Mobile, he wanted to give professional golf a shot. He knew it would take sacrifices and that the journey, one he shares with other golfers trying to make it professionally, wouldn’t be glamorous.

He worked for Mitsubishi for a couple of years, then spent the past two years waiting tables at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Cumming. In between his shifts, he practices or plays four to six hours of golf daily.

He saves up money for travel and entry into smaller tour events, like the Emerald Coast Pro Golf Tour, Open Golf Atlanta, the Peach State Pro Golf Tour and the National Golf Association Pro Golf Tour. He’s in the Georgia Open field this week at The Legends at Chateau Elan.

“I’ll pretty much play anything, anything to make a dollar,” Rau said.

Not surprisingly, the ultimate reward of earning a PGA Tour entry didn’t happen easily, either. Without status on a qualifying pro tour, he must go through Friday pre-qualifiers just to get into the Monday qualifying for that week’s PGA Tour tourney.

He shot 3-under-par 69 at the Friday pre-qualifier before the Sanderson Farms week, then left no doubt in Monday qualifying when he matched a career low with a 10-under 62, which featured nine birdies, one eagle and one bogey. Of the 80 golfers vying for four spots, he tied for low medalist honors — another golfer shot 62, one shot 63 and the other 64, the kind of low scores it sometimes takes on qualifying Mondays.

“It was cool,” Rau said. “I bogeyed 16 to fall back to 9 under, then I chipped in from off the green on 18 to get back to 10 under. I think everybody in Madison, Miss., knew I got in (the PGA Tour event).”

Then the giddiness set in.

While the world’s top golfers, like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, were in the British Open from July 18-21, the golfers in the PGA Tour’s state-side event were pretty good, too. The field included guys like Davis Love III, David Toms, Trevor Immelman, Mike Weir, Rory Sabbatini and Charles Howell III.

The Annandale Golf Club wasn’t to be confused with Muirfield Golf Links, where Mickelson triumphed, but the atmosphere was still up to PGA Tour standards. It can be tough on first-time qualifiers, as Rau found out when he shot 76 both days and missed the cut.

“I had fun and I had a lot of good practice days heading up to Thursday morning (for the first round) and I felt really comfortable in the situation,” Rau said. “But as the tee time approached on Thursday, the nerves got me. It’s not that I can’t compete out there. I know I can. But the nerves got to me.

“I putted really well. I just didn’t hit the ball well. It’s the two worst ball-striking rounds I’ve had in awhile.”

On the heels of that PGA Tour debut, Rau did what he does best. He went back to work, both waiting tables and practicing his golf. He will spend the rest of this year with more attempts at qualifying.

Up first is pre-qualifying for the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, held Aug. 15-18 in Greensboro, N.C. Then he plans attempts to make the field at three Web.com Tour tourneys — the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Ind., the Chiquita Classic in Weddington, N.C., and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio — before finishing up the year at the McGladrey Classic, a PGA Tour event at Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island.

Hopefully, another breakthrough will happen for him this year.

“I’m going to just keep doing the smaller stuff, keep making money and grinding it out,” Rau said. “The break’s coming. I can feel it.”

How long will his pro golf quest?

“It got extended (by playing a PGA Tour event), I know that,” he said. “I’m not sure there was a limit on how long I’d keep trying, but it sure got extended now.”

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.