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Air Force grad Tom Whitney wins the 88 Abierto OSDE del Centro on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica

A 2010 USAFA graduate, Whitney carded a seven under par 64 on Sunday to win the tournament with an overall score of fourteen under par.

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“I like the sound of that,” Tom Whitney said as he was informed by a reporter that he had won the tournament when Nicolo Galletti was unable to hole out to tie his score of 14 under par on the 18th hole.

Whitney seemed calm, as though he hadn’t processed his victory at the PGA Tour Latinoamerica’s Abierto Del Centro, held in Cordoba, Argentina this weekend.

Today’s win is Whitney’s first, and arguably the most impressive, in nearly two years since his victory at the PGA Utah’s Sand Hollow Open in September of 2017.

The PGA Tour Latinoamerica is a familiar tour for Whitney. He played on it in 2016 and was able to graduate to the tour for the following year, but he was unable to break into the higher part of the order of merit to stay on the Tour or make it up to the PGA Tour through this season. Although Tom noted that dropping back to the PGALA is not an ideal situation, it allows him to work out a lot of the mental difficulties of playing and competing at the highest level of golf. In the highest reaches of professional golf, it’s not enough to just play extremely well. Earning exemption exists somewhere at the cross section of talent, hard work, and a little luck.

The PGA Tour only has 125 full time players and a similar number of golfers on the tour, all vying for 50 promotion slots to the PGA for the next season. There’s a mental aspect of knowing how to win that Tom has certainly learned this week.

Prior to teeing off this morning, Whitney was not one of the tournament leaders. He had to be informed of his victory after taking a clubhouse lead because there were still players on the course in contention, but a seven under par, 64 for the day, shot him to first place over the final groupings.

The road to professional golf for Tom hasn’t been as straight-forward as it is for many of the touring professionals we typically see. As a golfer at the Air Force Academy, he won four collegiate tournaments and set four low-scoring records. He also competed in the 2009 U.S. Amateur and earn awards as a two time GCAA All-America scholar and a finalist for the Byron Nelson Award. Golfers at most NCAA programs would simply transition to professional golf, but Tom had a commitment as he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant upon his graduation in 2010.

He served out his active duty Air Force commitment as a missiles officer at F.E. Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Unlike most jobs, the missiles career work schedule as a nuclear missile operator can be difficult, with two day long shifts and not much time for golf. The harsh winters in the Wyoming plains also provide hardships in maintaining a professional quality golf game. Despite all of this, Tom did not hang up his golf bag, but rather, he competed in military events, winning the Air Force Golf Championship four times, the Armed Forces Golf Championship three times, and the CISM World Military Golf Championship once, winning by 23 strokes.

Even with such a resume, it’s difficult to compete with the hundreds of professional-level golfers who have the time and resources to practice and play year round in places like Florida, Texas, and California. Although he never lost his competitive streak, the last few years have been the first opportunity for Tom to give professional golf an equitable shot.

So what’s next for Tom?

With a very fresh win under his belt, he’ll hopefully be able to take a little bit of time to celebrate, but he is likely heading straight back to the grind almost immediately. He currently sits at the top of the money list with $40,300 in four events, up from 15th place last week, but Jared Wolfe is less than $1000 back in the order of merit.

The season culminates on June 2nd in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, at which time we will know more about Tom’s future and hopefully moving up to the tour with more experience, perspective, and possibly a few more wins.