Las Vegas, Nevada (August 9, 2010)–It's cliche to call this a "Cinderella Story" a la Carl Spackler in Caddyshack. But this story has that feel, even though over the years Las Vegas resident Bill Lunde has proven himself to be a darn good player. But now that he has earned his first official PGA Tour victory, winning the Turning Stone Resort Championship, he has gone from PGA Tour salesperson to PGA Tour champion in a few short years. But this win probably just proves that Lunde had the game to win at this level all along, his road was just a bit more traveled.–By Brian Hurlburt.
Lunde, who hails from the San Diego area along with fellow Las Vegas golfers and PGA Tour players Chris Riley and Charley Hoffman, lives in Las Vegas and was a member of the 1998 UNLV NCAA title team. He plays and practices at Las Vegas golf courses TPC Las Vegas and TPC Summerlin, the latter course being steps away from the office he held as a salesperson for Las Vegas PGA Tour event. Lunde was in sponsorship sales, working for the Las Vegas Founders Club, the volunteer group that ran the event. The year was 2006-07 and Lunde had decided to quit the game. For a brief time he was also in Title sales, but when the real estate market tanked, his job was gone and he had nowhere to turn other than back to golf. In both of his real jobs, he was working on commission and times were less than perfect.
Fortunately, the fledgling Butch Harmon Vegas Tour was in operation (it has since ceased), and Lunde could play some events in his hometown to kill some time, and maybe pursue the game again and possibly prepare for the PGA Tour's Q School. Instantly he began dominating the Harmon Tour and cashing decent checks. He then earned Nationwide Tour status for the 2008 season via the Q School. He parlayed that by winning the Nationwide Tour's Children's Hospital Invitational en route to finishing 5th on the Nationwide Tour money list earning himself a full exemption on the big tour for 2009. Life was back on track.
"I lost my job and didn't really know what to do and didn't have anything lined up and had kind of used up all of my resources to get the first two jobs I had, and was kind of left with 'What am I going to do now?'" said Lunde following his victory. "And I decided to play a mini tour in Las Vegas called the Butch Harmon Tour. It doesn't exist anymore. But it's one of those deals where you buy in for $17,000 and you play 13 events, and winner of each gets like 12, 13,000. And I just figured I'd do that just as a way to try to make money. If I was having fun, I'd kind of continue with golf, but it was more just something to do rather than sit around. And my wife works. So if your wife works and she's getting up in the morning, going to a long day of work and comes home and you're home on the couch, it's not good. And the other thing when you want to go out with the boys and you gotta ask your wife for a hundred bucks, it's even more humbling. So I had to do something and started playing golf again." Lunde basically won about half the events on the Harmon Tour and was the leading money earner.
Lunde cashed $825,691 on the PGA Tour in 2009 but was struggling through much of this season. His best finishes had been two 10th place ties, and he had made only 10 cuts in 22 tries. But the win and the $720,000 check jumped him up to 61st on the money list. The win and money means he will be fully exempt on the PGA Tour through 2012, a pretty nice 'commission'. Lunde stayed in Las Vegas following his graduation at UNLV and remains very close with Hoffman who was a child hood friend. Hoffman was one of the first to greet him following his win. Lunde's Grandfather introduced both to the game.
"My grandfather from my dad's side lived a couple blocks from me," Lunde remembered with the media while basking in the glow of his win. "Both my parents worked, so during the summer I spent all my time over there with them. He just enjoyed (golf) and played all the time. And when I turned 8, I was able to go out to the club he played at and play with him. And that was a big deal. And when I first started playing, I just enjoyed driving the golf cart more than anything. So he's the one who got me started. Charley grew up two houses down from me, and I've known Charley — I don't even know how I ever met the guy. Since I have memory Charley's been there. And Charley and I always did everything together growing up and kind of still do. When I started playing golf, my grandfather kind of introduced it to him as well and just played junior golf growing up in San Diego and on to college at UNLV and both fortunate enough to get out to this point. It's been kind of an amazing thing. I just wish my grandfather had been here to see Charley win and see me win would have been something special for him."
Lunde was the captain of the 1998 UNLV golf team that won the NCAA title at Hazeltine, also located in Minnesota. UNLV Head Coach Dwaine Knight still keeps in touch with Lunde, and couldn't be prouder of him, his sixth different former player to win on the PGA Tour. "This is big for his career, and he deserves it because he has worked very hard over the years," said Knight via telephone. "And it was nice to see Charley out there with him, and be there on the 18th hole."
Knight likes to tell a story about the national championship that usually goes under the radar, but adds a glimpse into the type of person Lunde is. During the final round, Lunde, who was near the lead for much of the tournament individually (he finished T15), and was a key component in the Rebels challenging for the title. But on the 9th hole, he hit a shot way left into rough. While he readied to swing, the ball slightly moved. Nobody would have ever seen it, but Lunde called a penalty shot on himself. The shot moved Clemson, at the time, into one shot behind the Rebels. "People ask me all the time what my favorite shot or moment was from the national championship, and I tell them that , no question, it was Lunde calling the penalty," said Knight. "There was no way anyone would have seen it and it was a huge moment for us at a very intense time of the tournament. But that shows you the character of the man." And now Knight has another story to add to his list of PGA Tour wins for his players, a list that also includes Chris Riley, Adam Scott, Hoffman, Chad Campbell, and Ryan Moore.
"Bill Lunde is a class act," says longtime TPC Las Vegas General Manager Dan Hammell. "He is a great guy and fun to be around. He has worked extremely hard to get to where he is today. Since leaving the Founders, his journey has been well documented and now the success is well deserved. Bill is always out at the club working on his game or having a bite to eat in the grill, which is his favorite hang. I believe he has had everything on the menu at least once. Great guy and we couldn't be more happy for him and his wife." Photo Getty Images