“Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, all the young guys who came up through the college system and have had immediate success on the PGA Tour…they’ve always done that. Whether it’s the AJGA, or in college, or summer amateur tournaments, they’re just physically and mentally prepared to do what they have to do. And then there’s guys like me–late bloomers that have to go through the grind–and that’s probably the other 90% of us who are doing this for a living at our age.”

David Wetterich is a professional golfer. At 24, having graduated Cincinnati LaSalle High School in 2010, he is a year older than the first two professional golfers he names above. And while the new crop of Tour players like Thomas and Spieth are winning PGA Tour titles, making millions of dollars, and fighting for major championships, Wetterich is taking a much more winding road–in more ways than one.

What’s In a Name

If David’s last name sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’re familiar with his second cousin Brett. A rookie on the PGA Tour in 2000, Brett Wetterich bounced between the big show and the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) before regaining Tour status in 2005, winning the 2006 Byron Nelson, and qualifying for that year’s ill-fated U.S. Ryder Cup team. At one point in 2007, Wetterich was ranked as high as 21st in the world.

While Brett was putting together his run, his cousin David (along with David’s two younger brothers Daniel and Matt) was growing up in a golf-crazy household in the suburbs of Cincinnati. “We watched all weekend when he won,” David says of Brett’s ‘06 triumph. “I remember that being an exciting time for us. I remember a few days afterwards, I listened to a radio interview of him, and stuff like that kept me more interested in the game. My family name [being] on the PGA Tour…gave me a little motivation.”

David used that motivation to secure a spot on the golf team at Division 3 Wittenberg University, in Springfield, Ohio. “I always had some kind of talent at [golf],” he says of his decision to pursue the sport after high school, “and I was better at it than other sports, so I decided I wanted to play in college.”

It’s not a stretch to say that Brett Wetterich’s mid-2000s success had a hand in the golf careers of all three of his cousins. David’s youngest brother Daniel is a sophomore on the golf team at Ohio State, and his middle brother Matt is a senior on the team at Xavier.

David was an All-American in 2012 at Wittenberg, and credits his coach for giving him the chance to compete at the collegiate level. “My coach Jeff Roope saw something in me, and ended up pushing really hard to get me. I ended up deciding to go there and it was a really good decision.”

At Wittenberg, Wetterich got a taste of the competition he’d be facing in the pro ranks right from the start: “I think I got to play in damn near every tournament all four years I was there. Glad I made that decision; playing gave me more experience and helped me learn throughout the whole playing process.”

Despite the strong memories of his cousin’s PGA Tour glory, Wetterich says that his consistent play and continued success at Wittenberg were the driving forces behind his decision to turn professional: “If I hadn’t gone there, I don’t know if I would have played golf; it kind of altered my decision as to what I wanted to do these days. But I am where I am now, and I kind of like my job.”

So where exactly is “here,” for Wetterich? Well, during the summer months, that question largely depends on the location of the nearest campsite.

Touring Through Canada

The MacKenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada is the lengthy name for golf’s Double A circuit – the stepping stone to the Web.com Tour. A series of 12 events spanning the breadth of Canada, the tour has produced a slew of PGA Tour players including James Hahn, Tony Finau, and JJ Spaun. It’s a place to find the true grinders of the game – Canadians, Americans, Latin Americans, and even a few Europeans and Asian players all competing for purses that rarely exceed $200,000. Only the top 5 players on the money list at the end of the season earn Web.com Tour cards, with just the # 1 finisher being guaranteed full status on the Web.

Last season David Wetterich and his roommate Ryan Linton, a former standout player at Southern Cal, were two of the many pros trying to figure out how to play as many MacKenzie Tour events as possible without breaking the bank. The pair live in Pinehurst, so living at home was out of the question. Hotels and motels get expensive (and monotonous) quickly. And then Linton had a brilliant idea.

Why not drive from event to event, and live in the back of a camper?

“At first i was brushing him off like, ‘He probably won’t go through with it’–it didn’t seem exciting or appealing at the time,” Wetterich says of his initial reaction. Linton was gung-ho on the idea from the jump, and played well enough in a few Canadian qualifiers to gain conditional status on the MacKenzie Tour. Then he made his final pitch to Wetterich.

“He said, ‘I’m doing this, and I got a camper that’s big enough to fit one more person, and I’d like for you to tag along. We’ll have the time of our lives this summer,” David says. It was a compelling offer, and Wetterich finally caved.

The rig was a 21-foot Starcraft that just barely fit two grown adults comfortably (“We made a bed out of the seating area for me, since it was his camper, he got the queen bed,” David says). They stayed either at campsites or, on some occasions, in the golf course’s parking lot (no word on night putting sessions). They had a shower, though they didn’t use it much, preferring to bathe either at campsites or the course. And unlike many young adult males living together, they cooked their own dinners most every night. Calling in a delivery pizza to a camper at a golf course sounds like a good way to get arrested.

As life doesn’t work the same way it does in Disney scripts, the pair’s grand adventure was marred by the logistical and performance-related difficulties inherent in, you know, actually playing pro golf. Wetterich didn’t have any kind of status on the MacKenzie Tour, and had to Monday qualify into the three tournaments the pair played in. That meant a lot of late Sunday driving, and a lot of tired Monday golfing. Even still, the experience was one of the best of his young life. A sample of the extensive answer he gave on his description of his weeks on the road with Linton:

I didn’t get status so it was a coin toss if I was going to go. I missed the first Monday qualifier. The second one was in Victoria a week later and I said, ‘I’m gonna do a couple of them and see where it goes.’ I planned on being up there for two weeks, and I stayed up there the whole season. I flew into Vancouver, took the ferry over to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and Ryan picked me up from there, and we ended up going from one coast of Canada to the other. I went home for a week and met him in Ottawa, and he did a little chunk of the countryside by himself, but it was still a blast, it was the time of my life.

In addition to playing golf as a job, the guys managed to sneak in some bonus rounds across the Great White North, including a few at world-renowned Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Golf wasn’t the only thing on the agenda during David and Ryan’s excellent adventure, as they had some of the continent’s best scenery and hiking at their front door. “Every night we’d have a campfire going when we could,” says David, “and we went on a lot of hikes, especially in British Columbia–we’d go on hikes everywhere we went.”

The MacKenzie Tour, like other smaller golf tours around the world, presents a challenging arena in which to succeed. Since the season is so short, it’s sometimes a matter of catching lightning in a bottle. “A lot of it is about timing; getting hot at the right time,” Wetterich says about this phenomenon. “Many guys have had one good month and it has springboarded them to the next level, or sometimes all the way up to the top.” Both Wetterich and Linton are still looking for that run of success – they missed the cut in each of their three tournaments.

Even though he didn’t see immediate success on the MacKenzie Tour, and acknowledges the tough road in front of him, Wetterich has no hesitation in his voice when asked if he’s going to run the whole thing back in 2017: “I plan on it…The plan is for both of us to get status and play the tournaments, not the Monday qualifiers.

“I know exactly how much it’s gonna cost, and the whole camper thing really cuts back on costs… I don’t know how much hotels were up there, but I feel like we were saving a lot of money at the campsites because they were only 40, 50 bucks at the most per night.”

(Wetterich, in hat, with Ryan Linton)

On The Grind

David Wetterich lives on the fringes of professional golf. He counts his second cousin Brett and PGA Tour winner Jim Herman as friends that he can go to for advice, but his name has yet to crack the year-end MacKenzie Tour Order of Merit listing. His story probably sounds familiar to countless other aspiring PGA Tour pros. So often when we turn on CBS on Sunday morning and are greeted with shots of kitesurfers above the lush fairways of Torrey Pines, we forget about the thousands of players toiling in obscurity, digging divots on out-of-the-way driving ranges, and sometimes sleeping in camper vans in an effort to make a few cuts, and perhaps put together a career-changing run.

For now, Wetterich is planning his 2017 schedule. But this process is a bit different for David than, say, Jordan Spieth. In between practicing for a few Florida mini tour events and Monday qualifiers, Wetterich is working and caddying around Pinehurst. Three months out of the year he works in Cincinnati, cutting and scrapping spare aluminum to save up some money. His first big test comes the weekend of April 18-21, at the MacKenzie Tour Q-School tournament at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, FL.

The plan, as always, is to succeed, and then hit the MacKenzie Tour with Linton again this summer. A few Top 5’s, maybe a win, and there’s a chance to move up to the Web.com Tour. And as we’ve seen with Wesley Bryan, a couple of victories there can be life-changing.

Of course, when you’re on the road, it’s hard to see the (Canadian National) Forest for the trees: “Canada was fun–we went from one coast to the other, from Vancouver and Victoria to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It was a really fun time and I definitely look forward to doing it again. I think the whole camper thing enhanced the whole tour for Ryan and I. We got to have some fun and see a different country.”

There are many routes that lead to the PGA Tour, as evidenced by the huge diversity of origin stories and home countries represented on leaderboards and at the top of the OWGR every week. Wetterich is hoping that with a strong showing on the MacKenzie Tour, a little luck, and a lot of camping, his road winds its way up to the highest levels of pro golf.

You can follow David’s journey this summer on Instagram @davidwetterich and at http://www.davidwetterichgolf.com