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ROUGH START AS PROFESSIONAL TAKES PFISTER FAR AFIELD

E.J. Pfister had figured he would start off this golf season in places like Pebble Beach, Calif., Coral Springs, Fla., and Hilton Head, S.C.

Instead, he wound up in places like Bangkok, Thailand, Karachi, Pakistan, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Because a PGA Tour berth eluded the Marilla native last fall, he spent this spring on the Asian Tour, where Americans go to hone their game for another run at golf's big league.

Not surprisingly, those on the Asian Tour have occasion to realize they're a long way from the Masters.

"The first couple of weeks there were shocking," said Pfister Monday after playing in the local qualifier for the U.S. Open. "Especially in the Philippines. You realize there's only two classes of people there, rich and pitiful poor. And then they have these golf tournaments for $200,000, and you can't imagine where they get it. You pay the caddie $5 for lugging your bag in 95-degree heat and he loves you.

"We flew from Pakistan to New Delhi on India Airlines, a 727, and it had a hole on the floor you could see right out of. We all were worried, and the tour director asked the pilot about it. The pilot said, 'No worry, it's a short flight.' "

For Pfister these days, such experiences fall under the category of dues-paying, something with which he is most familiar.

Pfister toiled for the better part of four years at Oklahoma State without ever tasting victory. When he finally got that first college triumph, it came at the Big Eight Championships, and he followed it a few weeks later with the biggest victory of his life, at last year's NCAA Championships.

Thus, Pfister says, he has the patience and perseverance to wait for PGA Tour success.

"Nothing's ever come easy for me in golf," Pfister said. "I've had more tough times than not. I think it's because it takes me a little longer to learn a lesson than most people. But you learn a lot from tough times."

His first tough time as a pro came last October when he failed to advance past the first round of the PGA Tour Qualifying School.

"I went to Indianapolis and just didn't play very good," he said. "It was pretty discouraging, because I had played well es Pfister far afield
all last summer."

Pfister, however, has plenty of company. These days, the majority of players fail before earning their Tour cards. Even Curtis Strange failed once. And Mac O'Grady took 17 tries before getting his card.

"Even if you do get your card on the first try," Pfister said, "it might not be the best thing for you. You're banging heads with the pros right off the bat. Obviously, some people do it, but I think maybe it's just as beneficial to go to Asia and get some good experience."

While playing in Asia had some strange moments, Pfister said it was an enjoyable experience, especially since he played well.

He finished second at the Thailand Open and third at the Singapore Open, where he won an extra $5,500 for shooting a course-record 63. All told, he won $41,000 and made a tidy profit. His expenses were about $13,000.

"I started off slow, but then I played well for seven straight weeks. In Thailand, I finished 13-under on a tough course. Shooting scores like that really helped my attitude."

Attitude always has been a strength of Pfister's.

Monday at the Open qualifier at the Crag Burn Club, he missed the cut, shooting a 7-over-par 79 and making just one birdie in the round.

Nevertheless, he was his affable, engaging self afterward.

"I always try to leave the golf course with a good attitude," he said. "I'm as intense as anybody. But I don't think you have to throw clubs and act grouchy to be intense."

Technically, Pfister's swing is sound. His ball-striking and shot-making ability are on a level where he can succeed on the PGA Tour.

He says he has worked hard on his short game and his putting.

"My short game has improved a ton," he said. "It comes down to putting. My putting's still streaky. I need to be a better putter, more consistent."

This summer, Pfister will play some lesser pro tournaments in the Midwest and come back for the New York State Open, which he won last year. He is hoping for some sponsor's exemptions into PGA Tour events, which would give him more experience under pressure.

"You have to mature mentally more than anything," Pfister said. "It's not that you can't get your Tour card because your game isn't there, it's because you're not mentally ready."

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