When commencement speakers these days give the "follow your dream" spiel, it usually comes with an asterisk. As in, maybe you should pursue your passion on the weekends, but don't quit your day job if you like to eat and sleep indoors.
Kevin Prise, on the other hand, is living his dream because he followed it.
Prise, 25 and a graduate of Orchard Park High School and Syracuse University, is a digital producer for the Web.com Tour, professional golf's equivalent of the Triple-A circuit. There might be classmates of his making more money at this point in their careers, but it's doubtful that any are having more fun.
If the sport of golf is part of your life in any way, you can imagine what it means to Prise to make his living by reporting on professional golf. And there are occasional perks, like having Andrew “Beef” Johnston buy him a beer.
Johnston is the bearded and beefy British golfer who became a crowd favorite during last year’s British Open at Royal Troon, where he finished eighth. Last September, Johnston went to Boise, Idaho, to compete in a leg of the Web.com Tour Finals in an effort to land a PGA Tour card. Johnston finished fourth in Boise and sixth on the Finals money list, which earned him his card on the big tour.
Prise was in Boise that week to cover the tournament.
“(Johnston) was a big fan favorite,” Prise said. “He was as authentic as you could ever expect. He'd spend like an hour after his round doing selfies, doing interviews and autographs, and everything. But he loved it, he loved hanging out with the fans. It was crazy how many people came out to see him.”
After Johnston won his first event on the European Tour last year, the Spanish Open, he famously said, “I can’t wait to get hammered.”
He was also in a celebratory mood in Boise. After finishing his media obligations for the day after Sunday’s final round, he texted Prise and some other tour personnel, inviting them to come have a beer with him.
“Beef was great, inviting us out for drinks … that's just an experience I'll never forget,” Prise said. “I remember thinking it's going to be hard to top that.”
Prise got hooked on golf during high school. After failing to make the Orchard Park High golf team in his sophomore and junior years, he made the squad as a senior. He learned the game playing at Bob-O-Link, the par-3 course in his hometown.
“I was like the eighth or ninth guy on the team” in high school, he said. “I was borderline in the lineup. They let me play in the (Section VI) team championship, which was the last tournament, and I actually came in second place, which was crazy. It was a signature moment in my golf life, a signature moment of my entire life.”
One of Prise’s friends at school was Jake Gurtler, the son of former Buffalo Sabres announcer John Gurtler, who has done press work for the International Junior Masters at East Aurora Country Club. John Gurtler asked Prise to write a few stories for the IJM program, and the seeds were planted for a career involving golf journalism.
Prise’s next stop was Syracuse University, where he wrote for the Daily Orange. He also landed a summer internship during college at WGR-550, working for Howard Simon and Jeremy White, and spent another summer as a communications intern with the Buffalo Bisons.
In his senior year at Syracuse, Prise was required to do a senior project, a deep dive into one topic. He wanted to do something golf-related, so he chose the Web.com Tour.
“I figured it would be harder to get unique access on the PGA Tour,” he recalled. “On the Web.com Tour there’s less media around, less of the limelight. So sure enough, they were great, they set me up with credentials. Syracuse helped fund the project, which was awesome.”
For the project Prise drove to various tour stops, including Greenville, S.C., Wichita, Kan., Evansville, Ind., Washington, D.C., and Springfield, Mo.
“And I actually got to caddie for a guy named Kevin Johnson, an old-school player kind of at the back end of his career. I met him the first couple of events and he offered to let me caddie for the project. I did that in August 2012. So for a college kid loving golf that’s just like a dream.”
Prise graduated from Syracuse in 2013. His 120-page senior project about the tour resides in the SU library.
“After college I got internships,” he said. “The two places I always tried to get internships were Golf World and The Buffalo News. At The Buffalo News I never even got an interview. But Golf World, I would talk with them every year and I could tell they were interested in me, but they only took one intern each year and nothing really came of it.
“Then the summer after my senior year they offered me the internship but it was tricky because I had a full-time job offer in Syracuse to write, at a business journal. I was a double major in business as well as journalism. I had to decide between a full-time job in Syracuse or doing a full-time internship at Golf World and hoping things would happen.
“I was super lucky that my parents encouraged me to take the internship. So I went off to Connecticut, lived for the summer in the dorms at Sacred Heart (College), and spent 10 weeks there. … That combined with the senior project helped legitimize me as someone who knew golf and could write about golf.”
After his internship, Prise moved back home to Orchard Park.
“It was perfect timing because a job opened up as sports editor at a paper that’s unfortunately now out of business, the Medina Journal-Register. It was based out of the Lockport office. I covered high school sports for four and a half months. That was great experience, too, I got to cover all the sports and pretty much run the section.”
In January 2014, Golf World contacted Prise again, offering him a “perma-lance” position. It was full-time hours but with no benefits.
“So I talked it over with my parents again and they supported it, which was awesome. So I left Medina and went back to Connecticut, to work at Golf World as pretty much an assistant editor kind of job. My main job was copy editing the whole magazine.”
At the end of July that year, with an ailing bottom line, Golf World ceased publication.
“It was sad for two reasons,” Prise said. “A, I lost my job, and B, I’d always loved that magazine.”
Some of the people from the PGA Tour who Prise had met along the way noted that Golf World had folded.
“Luckily my name was mentioned for a job. I had planned a trip to Miami to see some friends. Literally on the way to the airport in Hartford, on my way to Miami, I got a call from Jacksonville, Fla. I was like, holy crap, could this be the PGA Tour? I pulled over and it was. We just had an introductory chat. After that I had follow-up interviews from my father’s boat in the Florida Keys. I got the position, a freelance job” writing various content for the tour.
It was another job that came with no benefits, other than getting to write about golf. Prise put a fair amount of mileage on his car that year, driving from his parents’ house in Orchard Park to various PGA Tour stops.
“It was still super cool to just have a byline with the PGA Tour,” he said.
In March 2015, he got a job offer from the Metropolitan Golf Association in New York City, to work in communications.
“So I called the PGA Tour and told them I was probably going to leave and take this job unless there was any potential of full-time stuff. So they came back and said there was extra work I could do for them producing the website, so between that and my other job I could pretty much make a full-time salary, but not benefits. So now I’m choosing between working for the tour on a freelance basis in Florida, like perma-lance, or going for a stable job in New York. And I was torn.
“Again, my parents led me in the right way. They gave me the confidence that if I went to Florida things would work out. So I packed two suitcases and moved to Florida, rented a room on Craigslist, and started freelance producing plus writing, and got to know everyone in Florida at the tour.
“A year later, as part of the tour’s expansion, they created a new position, to be the Web.com Tour senior producer, to manage all the social and digital content. Since I knew the tour so well I was in good position to get that job. So I got that job last March.”
Several times along the way, Prise could have chosen a safer route, but with the encouragement of his parents, he chose golf over financial security. It has paid off with a job that he loves.
Prise produces video for the Web.com Tour, as well as tournament recaps, feature stories, tweets, Instagram photos and other social media content.
He finds Web.com Tour players to be friendly and accessible. One of them, Matt Atkins, let Prise work as his caddie last July at the Web.com Tour’s stop at Peek N’ Peak in Clymer, the LECOM Health Challenge.
Prise wrote a caddie’s diary about his experiences for the Web.com Tour website. He wrote about some of the unexpected pressures that came with the job, such as raking a bunker properly or tending a flagstick.
On the No. 5 green in Atkins’ second round, Atkins was putting from a good distance and asked Prise to tend the flagstick.
“I had tended a flag in casual rounds with friends and family, but never in competition,” Prise wrote in his online diary. “The topic hadn’t even been discussed in the first few days, and now here we were. Game time.
“The ball rolled toward the cup, and I tried to pull the flag. On first attempt, it didn’t budge. Panic mode set in. Luckily, I pulled the flag cleanly on my second try – no harm, no foul. Atkins unfortunately went on to three-putt for bogey, but I received a compliment on the flag-pulling from fellow competitor Zack Sucher’s caddie, Richard Schriefer.”
Atkins missed the cut in the event by one stroke. Prise wrote that he could not help but wonder if any of his shortcomings as a caddie had cost Atkins to fall below the cut line.
“As we walked to the scoring trailer and then back to the shuttle, where we said our goodbyes, several thoughts raced through my head,” Prise wrote. Were my rake jobs (in bunkers) less-than-perfect? Was my flag-tending on No. 5 slightly off? Did it take me too long to clean a ball? Was the towel not wet enough at a critical juncture?
“I worried that even the slightest mishap could have cost Atkins some focus for the slightest amount of time – which could have led to a lost shot that cost him a chance at a paycheck in western New York. Atkins assured me that I did a good job, and he even graded me under par for the week. I wasn’t convinced. I’m not sure I’ll ever be.”