Agony of a mini-tour alternate: What it’s like waiting for ‘the call’
Mark Baldwin is chasing the dream of playing on the PGA Tour. And sometimes, that dream takes him to odd places. That’s how he found himself in the back of a yellow taxi in the wee hours of the morning last month driving through the bayous of Louisiana to a tournament he had no guarantee of even playing in.
Baldwin is your prototypical journeyman. At 37, he’s been on the pro-golf grind for a while now, and his path has taken him to some interesting places: China, Latin America, mini tours all over the U.S. Still, the ultimate goal of the PGA Tour has eluded him.
That dream of reaching pro golf’s apex is why Baldwin paid hundreds of dollars for a last-minute plane ticket and a 150-mile taxi ride just for the possibility of bettering his chances of achieving The Dream.
“My week could be right around the corner,” Baldwin told GOLF.com. “I’ve got to give myself every possibility to make the most of those opportunities.”
Such is life on the fringes of professional golf.
On Monday of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open, Baldwin was 18th on the alternate list. As the week wore on, his position improved. By Wednesday afternoon, he had moved up to 4th on the list and had a real shot at getting into the field. So, he caught one of the last flights from Phoenix to New Orleans in hopes of being on site in case his number came up.
There was just one problem when he arrived in New Orleans — there were no rental cars available. With spring break and St. Patrick’s Day that same week, cars were scarce. A call to action from the popular Monday Q Info Twitter account looked promising at first, but ultimately proved fruitless.
“I ended up taking two different cabs that got me to a hotel near [the course],” Baldwin said. “I got about an hour and a half of sleep and then I went and got on site.”
Baldwin had to arrive before the first tee times in order to clear Covid protocols. Then, he played the waiting game. All he needed was one player to withdraw and he would be in the field. No such luck. All 144 players showed up, and Baldwin’s journey was for naught.
But that doesn’t mean he regrets it.
“I’d much rather be on site and not get in than get in and not be on site,” Baldwin said. “You never know when your week is coming.”
Fellow Korn Ferry pro Hayden Buckley proved as much just a few weeks earlier. Buckley got into the field as an alternate and ended up holding the trophy by week’s end. He now has a clear path to the PGA Tour.
“You just never know when one of those strange, miracle opportunities is going to come your way,” Baldwin said. “Even if it costs a little something, it’s money well invested.”
That same week Buckley went from alternate to winner’s circle, Baldwin lived the nightmare of getting “the call” when he wasn’t on site. As the 7th alternate the morning of the event, he hopped on a plane to head home. When he landed in Atlanta for his connecting flight, the Tour called and told him he was on the tee in nine minutes if he could make it.
“I was like, ‘Yeah let me just go talk to the pilot real quick,'” Baldwin joked. “On the heels of that, if there’s any possibility of getting in the field as an alternate, I wanted to be on site.”
Baldwin again found himself on the alternate list the next month. This time, it was at the MGM Resorts Championship in Las Vegas.
On Tuesday morning he was 1st alternate. The chances of getting into the tournament were “very high” at that point. But…the list stopped moving.
Every time his phone rang, Baldwin hoped it was the Tour calling with good news. Time and again, he was sorely disappointed. He went to sleep Wednesday night still hoping for that call.
Still stuck as an alternate Thursday morning, Baldwin headed to the course. With Ryan French (who runs the Monday Q Info Twitter account) on the bag in case he got in the field, the two began to wait. Las Vegas theoretically produces a greater chance of WDs with Sin City’s temptations beckoning, but the morning wave came and went without a no-show.
The pair left the course for a while after the first wave to regroup. They filled the rental car and drank smoothies while they waited for the call. Baldwin headed back to the course to warm up (again) in hopes this wouldn’t be a repeat of Louisiana.
Finally, the call came. Matt Every was a late WD with a hip injury. Baldwin was in.
After some high fives and a quick pep talk, he headed to the tee with another chance to take a step toward the ultimate goal of the PGA Tour.
“You’re just one step away from that dream of playing on the PGA Tour,” Baldwin said. “You never really know when it’s your week.”
Vegas proved not to be his week — Baldwin made the cut but finished at six over, in 69th place — but next week just might be.