Monday, August 2, 2021

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Cejka arrives at midnight and qualifies

The “golf grind” isn’t reserved for freshly minted professionals. It isn’t reserved for the mini tours. It isn’t even exclusive to the Korn Ferry Tour.

The “golf grind” is ageless. It’s an eternal chase for the simplest thing in the sport: a tee time.

Alex Cejka personifies this.

He turned 50 in December and is set to make his PGA TOUR Champions debut this week at the Cologuard Classic after shooting a 5-under, 67 to share high honors at the Monday Qualifier at Oro Valley Country Club in Tucson, Arizona.

“No matter what Tour, what continent, everybody is trying to grind it out,” said Cejka when reached by phone after checking into his hotel. “The field is so small, the most difficult thing on the Champions Tour is getting a tee time.”

It was even more difficult when you consider the circumstances.

Cejka used the LECOM Suncoast Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour as a tune up for this week. He made the cut with rounds of 68-70 to start and limped to the finish a bit with a closing 76 in windy conditions.

This is where the story really gets interesting.

He had a 5:00 p.m. flight out of the Sarasota-Bradenton airport on Sunday night. He connected in Houston and landed in Tucson at 10:30 p.m. By the time he got his bags and his rental car, he arrived at his hotel just after midnight, which is 2:00 a.m. eastern. 

“I was a little bit tired, I must say, I couldn’t sleep, I was tossing in bed. I could not fall asleep. It was probably just anxiety playing my first qualifier for the Champions Tour. First time, you don’t know what to expect.”

He had a 10:00 a.m. tee time on Monday and woke up at 8:00 a.m., just eight hours after arriving in Tucson from Florida.

He didn’t get off to a promising start. Cejka actually made a three-putt bogey on hole four and some doubt began to creep in. Was he too tired? Could he muster a good round after a long travel day?

“I was frustrated when I was 1-over after four holes, but I made a great birdie putt on five that got me going,” he explained. “I made an eagle on 11 and that really boosted my confidence. I played pretty solid for my first rodeo on the Champions circuit.”

Solid enough to share top honors with Jim Carter and Todd Fischer. Len Mattiace earned the fourth and final spot in the Cologuard Classic.

“I’m a little tired now,” admitted Cejka. “I think I’m going to take a little day off tomorrow, just register and hit a few balls. The last two to three weeks were a grind.”

Cejka, who won on TOUR as recently as 2015 at the Puerto Rico Open, has been a career grinder. He has 413 starts on TOUR since his first in 1996. As his 50th birthday approached, he played in eight Korn Ferry Tour events last year. Even in his early 40s, he played in 36 events on the KFT from 2013-2014.

“Luckily we have a job where we start a new life at 50, basically a new career. No matter where I go from here, I told my wife, listen it can be in three years, five years, if I still love the grind, I’ll still play. I’m excited and hopefully I’ll get a couple more chances.”

His first tee time on the Champions Tour comes in his home state. He resides in Bullhead City, Arizona.

He won’t sleep in his own bed, but he’ll definitely sleep easy tonight.

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