- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2012

A penny saved might be a penny earned. But as a professional golfer, especially one struggling to make a living, it’s about earning every single penny.

That’s what Michael Tobiason Jr., a 28-year-old teaching professional from Delaware, is going through. A year after qualifying for and playing in the U.S. Open at Congressional, Tobiason’s life is “back to reality” in the words of his mother, Joan.

Michael is just a real grounded person, and he just takes it for what it is because that was a phenomenal experience,” Joan Tobiason said. “[But he thought], ‘I didn’t win any money, so now I’ve got to go out and make some money.’ And now he’s right back to where he started before that. He’s just going to keep chipping away. His goal has never wavered.”

The goal is to make the PGA Tour, a dream fostered at the age of 7 under the tutelage of the man he still considers his favorite golfer, his father. Michael Tobiason Sr. died of bile duct cancer in July 2010, but Joan still calls him her son’s biggest fan.

One of the biggest lessons Michael Tobiason Jr. learned from his father was to always have fun playing.

“He said that he had fun no matter what on the course,” said Tobiason’s best friend and business manager, Kyle McMahon. “No matter how it went; if you had a horrible round, you still had fun because you were doing what you loved.”

Tobiason shot 3-over-par 147 at U.S. Open sectional qualifying Monday at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, not the kind of round that was good enough to get him back on that major stage. Still, he was all smiles just reflecting on the attention he got last year with the press, a Golf Channel documentary and the opportunity to play in the Open.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling how much attention I did get,” he said. “It was kind of a good taste, though. A good taste of what it’s like to be out there with the big boys and the kind of distractions you have to deal with.”

The attention subsided, and Tobiason went back to giving lessons at Applecross Country Club at Rock Manor in Wilmington while also playing as many small tour events as possible. He picked up six victories and 12 top-five finishes, “a good year,” Tobiason said, but not enough to play full time without the teaching.

Every penny counts because Tobiason isn’t just chasing a dream. He has a 6-year-old son, Aden, and knows that even though it’s mostly fun, playing golf is a means to more than just that end.

“Ninety percent of the time, yes. There’s always that 10 percent you feel like, ‘Damn,’ especially when you got a little guy at home because you’re not just supporting you, you’re supporting him,” Tobiason said. “Is it a job? Yeah, it’s a job. It’s a job that I love.”

That love came from his father, and Joan Tobiason said the emotions of his death were still raw a year ago when he stepped onto the course at Woodmont and qualified for the U.S. Open. Playing in that tournament was a tribute to his father, but now it’s about more than just hoping.

“It’s never easy. I’m doing it more for me now. This is my dream,” Tobiason said. “It’s something that I want and something that I feel I’m succeeding in.”

Tobiason concedes that it’s hard when the money creeps into the thought process. He wants to give himself every opportunity to make the Nationwide Tour, and eventually the PGA Tour, but he can only play in as many tournaments as his finances allow.

But at a very basic level, Tobiason is making ends meet and playing golf for a living.

“Somebody once said, you do what you love and the money follows. And it’s actually to that point now where the money’s following. I’m really starting to play really good golf, and the money’s really starting to come around a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully, in the near future, I can spend all my time playing and just a little time teaching. It’s tough to find that happy balance.”

That happy balance can come with continued improvement and an eye on the past and his father, an influence to this day. The passage of time hasn’t cured the pain of Michael Tobiason Sr.’s death, but Joan Tobiason said more laughing and storytelling is going on.

“Since Mike passed away, whenever somebody would find a penny I would say to my grandson, Michael’s son, ‘Pennies from heaven. Pennies from heaven,’ ” she said. “We went away and there sitting on his grandfather’s chair was a penny. … It’s big news now every time somebody finds a penny when they’re out somewhere. He was walking with us. You just kind of keep him there with you all the time.”

When Tobiason traded in his father’s Chevrolet Malibu for an Impala this past winter, there was a penny sitting on the ground near the new car. Qualifying at Woodmont again Monday, he ruffled through change in his pocket and held out the one with the most value to him.

“Penny in hand, man,” he said. “Just one.”

Just one of many, hard-earned, for Tobiason.

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