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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Profile - Rebel With a Cause

Profile

Rebel with a Cause

The story of Jeremy Anderson, before and after his stunning Rebel golf years

Story by Brian Hurlburt

 

Jeremy Anderson won an NCAA team golf title with the UNLV Rebels and was a can’t-miss pro prospect, but then life happened.

In March of 2008, this writer caught up with Jeremy Anderson, a member of the 1998 UNLV golf team that won the NCAA title, while he was enjoying a few spring training games in Arizona. His words on that day from a stadium in the Cactus League were of a golfer trying to will himself—and his body—back to greatness.

"I will win on the Nationwide Tour this year, no question, finish in the top 25 on the money list, and be back out on the PGA Tour next year," said Anderson, a day after watching his beloved UNLV basketball team win a game in the Mountain West tournament back in Las Vegas. "It's one thing to talk a good game, but it's another to truly believe it inside and that is what you need to do to be successful. It is good to feel this way about my game. I am very comfortable and feel like I have come full circle."

His words, fortunately or unfortunately depending upon how you look at it, weren’t prophetic and in less than two years Anderson would officially hang up his golf clubs and give up his pursuit of professional golf. To those looking in from the outside, Anderson’s pro golf career could be looked at as a failure. They might assume that Jeremy Anderson, version 2015, is bitter and spends his days wallowing in what could have been. Or, maybe, what should have been.

Those outsiders would be incorrect.

Anderson, version 2015, just might be the happiest he’s ever been, at least since his boyhood days at Timacuan Country Club in Florida where he was one of the best junior golfers in the state and one of the best in the country. Wins were easy for Anderson in junior golf, high school golf and college golf. They weren’t so easy at the professional level. For Anderson, winning—or even keeping his status on the PGA TOUR—turned out to be impossible.

Today Anderson is a financial advisor and portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch, and takes as much pleasure—if not more—in helping people and charities as he did in making a 20-footer for birdie. Golf is still a huge part of his life, but these days he plays in hit-and-giggle charity scrambles and with his buddies for a couple of bucks or a beer. Anderson now enjoys the purity of the game and relishes the fact that his livelihood doesn’t rest on the next putt.

“Life now is incredibly successful because I am getting to do all of the things that I always wanted to do,” says Anderson. “I am doing well in business, I get to play golf, a game that I still love, for fun and with my friends and to help worthwhile causes. It’s very fulfilling. I always thought, even when I was playing my best, that golf would be just part of my journey and that I wanted to accomplish a lot off of the course.”

Jeremy Anderson’s golf story begins in Lake Mary, Florida, a golf community that CNN once ranked as the 4th best place to live in America. Anderson lived on the Timacuan Country Club course and had free run of the place. From just about the time Anderson stuck a tee in the ground, he was a dominant player. As a local junior, he won just about everything in his area. He enjoyed the same success on the national junior circuit where he was recognized as one of the top golfers in the country, if not the world. He was a three-time Rolex All-American in the junior ranks and the medalist at the 1995 U.S. Junior Championships. He was also a two-time Florida state junior champion at a time when future PGA TOUR star Matt Kuchar was a rival.

That success followed Anderson to Las Vegas and UNLV. He was one of the most sought after recruits in the country, and he decided to play golf at UNLV. He had offers from such powers as Oklahoma State, Florida and Georgia Tech, but he thought being a Rebel was the best choice. "Every school I visited, there were some drawbacks at each," he told Las Vegas Sun in 1996. "I couldn't think of any drawbacks here—everything was great. I wanted to be at a place where I knew I could be completely happy with everything. They've got the greatest facilities I've ever seen. Every course we went to was great. I fell in love with everything—the school, the atmosphere, the facilities, the coaches. Obviously, I want to help this team win the national because I really think that's what's most important, the team. Personally, I would love to be an All-American and I would also like to be an academic All-American—I think that's important also. I would like to be the golf team's first-ever academic All-American at UNLV."

Unlike his hopeful words prior to the 2008 professional season, Anderson’s comments prior to embarking on his Rebel career were prophetic. He went on to have one of the best Rebel golf careers in history and accomplished just about everything he wanted to as a collegian. Anderson was a key player on the 1998 national championship squad; a moment he says that will never be topped.

“Hands down, winning the national championship with my UNLV teammates in 1998 will go down as my biggest thrill in golf,” says Anderson, who has lived in Las Vegas since his college days. “Golf is such an individual sport and you don’t usually get to celebrate accomplishments with a group of people like you can when you are a part of a team. That was such a special time. It was special for our team, our coaches, our fans, and the community. For it to happen in New Mexico where it all started for (UNLV head) Coach Knight made it even more amazing.”

The win was so huge that legendary Las Vegas hotel magnate—and UNLV booster—Steve Wynn was calling the pro shop at the University Course on the New Mexico campus for regular updates. When he found out the Rebels had won he demanded to speak with the coaches and players. Once on the phone he let them know a private celebration would take place at his home on Shadow Creek, the home course of the Rebels and one of the best layouts in the world. Besides the private shindig, the City of Las Vegas rolled out the green carpet for the Rebels highlighted by a parade down the Las Vegas Strip. It was the second time a Rebel team was honored in such a fashion as the UNLV basketball partied down the Strip in 1990 after winning the national title.

In addition to the team success, Anderson’s individual career at UNLV was legendary. He was voted player of the year in two different conferences (1999 Western Athletic and 2000 Mountain West) and was a first team All-American in 1999 and 2000, and a second team choice in 1998. During the national championship season he posted three finishes and finished in the top 30 at the NCAA Championships. In all, Anderson won five collegiate tournaments and set the UNLV record for lowest 18-hole score (63), lowest 54-hole score (198) and lowest scoring average for both a season (70.85) and career (72.01). Most special to Anderson is the fact that he became the first athlete in UNLV history to be a three-time All-American and three-time academic All-American. In 2010, Anderson was inducted into the UNLV Athletics Hall of Fame and in 2002 the Rebel golf team was inducted into the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame.

Up to and including his Rebel career, everything in Anderson’s life seemed to fall into place. Life was great. Golf was easy. That continued early in his professional career when he breezed through PGA TOUR Qualifying School as a rookie and earned his playing card for the 2000 season. His life was set and PGA TOUR stardom was on its way.

But as we all know, life isn’t all made putts and striped fairway drives. Jeremy Anderson was soon to experience the most grueling and interesting journey of his life.

The 2000 Q School—when Anderson finished tied for 11th to secure his card and win $25,000 for his troubles—might have been the final true high point in Anderson’s once-can’t-miss golf career. To celebrate, Anderson, who didn’t have family and friends to enjoy the moment with, bought a bottle of Opus One wine and a pizza from Domino’s. He spent the next several hours in his lonely hotel room talking on the phone and thinking back to the UNLV team national championship and how it was so special to be able to celebrate with a team.

Following his Q School success, Anderson’s professional golf career went from “can’t miss” to “can’t play” in seemingly a matter of moments. Anderson felt confident as he embarked on his rookie season but then things started to quickly unravel. He was scheduled to play with Loren Roberts during the Buick Open in 2001, but nagging neck pain which started in the day’s previous round forced him to withdraw on the first tee when he couldn’t bend his head down far enough to see the golf ball on the tee. It was a sign of things to come.

Anderson was embarrassed about the withdrawal, but continued to work through the pain and played as much as possible before finally shutting it down in 2002 and spending months in rehab with Las Vegas therapist Tim Soder. The neck pain would linger throughout his professional playing days, and was something he could never overcome.

The time between his initial neck injury and the end of his professional career was a whirlwind and a blur. He played mini tour events, he worked with Butch Harmon, he spent hundreds of hours rehabbing, and countless more hours trying to recapture his magical golf game. His true final push to continue his professional golf career came in the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2007, Anderson came this close to earning back his PGA TOUR playing status when he won $186,258 on the Nationwide Tour—now the Web.com Tour—sand finished 29th on the money list, just four spots out of the top 25. The top 25 earned PGA TOUR playing cards for 2008. While those 25 players spent 2008 lapping up the PGA TOUR lifestyle, Anderson struggled during his second-straight year on the Nationwide Tour. He earned a paltry $25,881 and finished 137th on the money list and way out of the top 25. It wouldn’t be long before his professional golf journey would be over.

“I think you can divide my golf career into a couple different parts,” says Anderson. “It’s interesting to look back now, but it seems like when I was a kid I never lost a tournament locally. And when I played in national tournaments I won most of those as well. No matter where I played I had success. It all seemed so easy to me and like that was just it was supposed to be. People around me, I think, knew how difficult what I was doing was, but I just took it all for granted. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, even after my UNLV career when I got my Tour card as a rookie. To me, that was just the next logical step and it didn’t surprise me, but it probably surprised a lot of other people because I was the only player in my college class to get my card in the first try.”

In all, Anderson played one full season on the PGA TOUR and a total of 31 events over four seasons. He earned $99,464 and made eight cuts and finished in the top 25 once. He played parts of six seasons on the Nationwide Tour, earning more than $300,000 but never finishing within the magical top 25.

In reality, Anderson never made it back after that withdrawal from the Buick Open when Roberts and a stunned gallery looked on in bewilderment. The good news is that for Anderson, golf was never the end all, be all. Academics always came first—or at least a very close second—and he often found himself in hotel rooms on the road looking in the mirror and questioning the person staring back at him about the direction of his life. “I asked myself all of the time, ‘Was I doing everything I could to be the best person I can be?’” says Anderson. “Even when I was playing well I was as intrigued and excited about playing golf with successful business people and learning from them as I was to compete at the highest level. Even at UNLV my teammates always gave me a hard time because I liked to play with members of the UNLV Foundation so much. But I found that time very rewarding because I got to pick their brain and what I learned back then is paying huge dividends now.”

Only Jeremy Anderson knows what the guy looking back in the mirror these days is thinking, but from the outside it appears life is all birdies and eagles even though life happened a little bit differently than was planned.

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