AUGUSTA, Ga. - It was early in 1992 that Joe Durant was stacking boxes of golf clubs in a warehouse in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., for about $500 a week.
That would have been after he quit playing pro golf, after he quit trying to sell insurance, but before his wife got in his face and, as Durant says, put the fear of God in him.
Durant first turned pro in 1987, but never was able to score a PGA Tour card, instead bouncing around on the minor-league tours. After the '91 season, when he won $16,000 in 27 Nike Tour events, he'd had enough.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “I felt like I had given it a pretty good shot, but that it was time to move on.”
So he got his license to sell life and health insurance and proceeded to sell exactly zero policies.
“Talk about the world's worst salesman, you're looking at him,” he said. “They tell you to call your friends, call your relatives, but I was too embarrassed to do even that. It wasn't for me.”
Next stop, the warehouse and distribution center owned by golf retailer Edwin Watts. Durant was into his third month on that job when Watts arranged for him to get a sponsor's exemption to play in a Hogan Tour event in nearby Pensacola.
“I'd gone something like four months without touching a club, but Edwin did me a great favor getting me into that tournament and I was able to finish in the top 20. I got the itch that maybe I should give it one more shot.”
Enter wife Tracey, who allowed Durant to tee off only after she'd teed off on him.
“It wasn't really a conversation because only one person was talking,” Durant said.
He must have been listening. Although it took four more years in the bushes, Durant finally made it to the PGA Tour in 1997, scored his first win a year later and, suddenly, has become one of the tour's dominant players with two wins in 2001 that virtually doubled his career earnings.
Now, Durant comes to the Masters feeling as if he's poised to win a major championship.
“You can't predict those kind of things, but I'm going to try to play solid golf and hopefully get in the picture,” said Durant, who will celebrate his 37th birthday during Saturday's third round at Augusta National Golf Club, providing he survives the cut. “I want to get in some majors and get in the hunt a little bit and see how I do. Just to be in those tournaments is one thing, then to go out and compete and play well is another thing. But I am going to try.”
Durant knows that he can thank Tracey for the mindset that allowed him to win earlier this year at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the Genuity Championship, qualifying for this week's Masters in the process.
“She knew I was miserable not playing and I was making everybody around me miserable, too,” said Durant, once a self-destructing player who loved and loathed the game at the same time. “She knew it was time to try again. But she made me promise that I would go about it a little differently. She said, `Hey, look, if you do not go out with a better attitude we are not going to do this.' I promised her I was going to really have a positive attitude. If I played bad I wasn't going to bring it home with me.
“She said, `If you play, you play and you be a man about it.' She knew I was being a wimp basically. She did not want to put up with it anymore.”
Nobody was calling Durant a wimp earlier this season. In three starts prior to Bay Hill, the Floridian was 69 under par with two wins and a fifth-place finish.