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Pro turned amateur, McLister back into the swing

Joey McLister will tee it up in the 2017 Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship next week at The Club at Creighton Farms in Aldie.—Courtesy Photo
Translated literally from the French, the word "amateur" means "lover of [something]." That definition perfectly applies to Loudoun native Joey McLister, an amateur in - that is, a lover of - the game of golf.

Though McLister is no ordinary amateur.

From the time he graduated from the University of Delaware in 2007, until the time he switched to an office job in 2014, McLister's livelihood was earned by his skill on the links.

In Europe, in South America and on small professional golf tours throughout the United States, McLister toiled on the course, driving and putting in hopes of achieving his dream of making the big leagues on the Professional Golfers Association Tour.

In 2013, after emerging among the best players from the tour's qualifying school, McLister finally earned his PGA card. His first event at the highest level was the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, setting the stage for an unforgettable outing between a son and his folks.

"The best memory from that event was having my parents [Mike and Jeanne] come down and my dad caddy for me. No doubt," McLister recalled. "Years upon years of blood, sweat, hard work, and you get to share it with the people who introduced you to the sport and helped you grow and prosper? No one better to share it with than them."

McLister competed in another PGA Tour event, the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, and participated in a slate of stops on the Web.com Tour. In 2014, newly married to wife (and former caddy) Leigh, he decided to leave golf's professional ranks to begin a career in financial services.

But the golfing bug never left him. Immediately, McLister applied to the United States Golf Association to reclaim his amateur status. By regulation, the USGA assigned McLister a three-year waiting period, unable to compete at all during the interim.

His long wait finally ended earlier in 2017, and it wasn't long before he was back in his comfort zone.

"It was so much fun getting the competitive juices flowing again," McLister said. "I so dearly missed that. It was a blast being out there with my dad. I truly enjoyed every step. And for not having played in so long, I played great!"

Swinging a round June 10 at Winchester Country Club with his father as caddy, McLister started off hot and kept his lead, finishing atop the field with a score of 70.

That performance automatically granted him a spot in the Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship, a 104-year-old competition being held for the first time at The Club at Creighton Farms in Aldie, an 18-hole par-72 course 7,175 yards long.

McLister tees off June 27 at 8:10 a.m. His father will again be his caddy.

"I'm proud and excited to be representing the town where I grew up," said McLister, who resides a three-minute ride from Creighton Farms.

Still in to win

The McListers are a sports-oriented family. Brother Kevin was, like Joey, an accomplished golfer at Loudoun County High School and the University of Delaware before earning his card on the Asian tour in 2016. Another brother, Jack, just wrapped up his sophomore season with the University of Connecticut's tennis team.

Joey grew up playing all the usual sports, like basketball and swimming. He began to narrow his focus on golf during his junior year at Loudoun County High School. He became adept at chipping and putting, and graduated to collegiate golf.

"I think playing all those other sports really helped me, with competitiveness, with hand-eye coordination. I'm glad I branched out earlier on," McLister said. "But how I fell in love with golf? There's no perfect score, there's always a challenge. That's what drove me."

During his international journeys, McLister once met the great Gary Player, a 15-time winner of major championships between the PGA's regular and senior tours. The native Loudouner asked Player for a piece of advice.

"He said, 'You play to win the game,'" McLister recalled. "I still have that mentality. You play to win the whole thing."

The essential difference between a professional golfer and a serious amateur, McLister said, is one of mentality.

"As a pro, you're looking to destroy the field, birdie every single hole. That's the only way to win on the professional level, because people are very, very good," McLister explained. "On the amateur level, it's more just holding on, playing for par."

After seven years as a touring professional and now a triumphant amateur, what is McLister's top tip for success in the game of golf?

"Hard work," he responded without hesitation. "Hard, hard work, night and day."

104th VSGA Amateur Championship

-When: June 27-July 1

-Where: The Club at Creighton Farms, Aldie

-Who: 132 qualified and exempt golfers

-How: 36 holes stroke-play; five rounds match-play

-At stake: The Schwarzschild Brothers Trophy


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