There is something very distinctive about Chad Collins as a professional golfer. By his own admission he cares more about hunting and fishing than golf and spends much of his time on his farm rather than on the practice course.
But there he was last week, beating the field by three strokes in a sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Maryland, to earn a spot at this week's U.S. Open.
"To be honest with you I'm surprised I played as well as I did," Collins said afterward. "Hunting and fishing is my passion and all last week I was putting in food plots, I was on my tractor all last week and I didn't play one hole of golf. So I'm pretty shocked that I played this well to tell you the truth."
Just because he enjoys his life as a farmer in Indiana, however, does not mean that Collins is not thrilled to be making an appearance at Pinehurst No. 2 — though he may be conservative about expressing it.
"It's nice," he said. "It feels really good."
Collins qualified in style at Woodmont, easily outpacing 58 other golfers over the grueling 36-hole event.
But things have not always been so easy for the 35-year-old, who is coming off of one of the hardest stretches in his professional career. In 2011 he was plagued by fractured ribs that forced him to shut down his schedule following the FedEx St. Jude Classic in mid-June. And he says he still doesn't know how that injury occurred.
"Just hitting a lot of balls and a lot of fatigue, pulled something maybe — who knows?" he said. "Stress fracture, you know, it happens. But I'm good now, I'm good. Didn't take long till it was healed up."
Despite his injury clearing up quickly he tried to return to the course before he was fully ready to take on a professional schedule again. He had a medical exemption from the PGA Tour to start 2012 and jumped right in, playing the first nine events on the calendar. He didn't make the cut in any of them and soon found himself back down a rung on the Web.com Tour.
"Health-wise I felt alright so I decided to start my nine medical starts right off the bat at Sony Open in Hawaii," Collins said. "I think I missed the cut by a shot. I had nine medical starts and I didn't make a single cut and I shouldn't have came out as early as I did looking back on it. Health-wise I was fine but game-wise I wasn't. It was just a lesson to be learned."
Collins' 2013 season saw a return to form as he made 12 cuts out of 20 appearances on the Web.com Tour, earning himself the 33rd spot on the money list and finishing well enough in the Web.com Tour finals to earn back his PGA Tour card.
In 2014 Collins started strong, making the cut in six out of seven PGA Tour events, but then hit a slump which saw him make the cut in only two out of twelve starts leading up to the qualifiers at Woodmont.
"I would say [my 2014 season was] excellent in the beginning and I would say poor, till now," said Collins. "But this was pretty sweet making it through to the Open, which you know is just one small step."
Tough times can follow athletes around and force them into cycles of poor play and repeated mistakes. But all it takes is that one day, that one opportunity to play well and get the monkey off your back that makes it all worth it.
"You know, golf is funny," said Collins. "My expectations weren't very high and — not that I didn't know that I could play that well it's just that I haven't been playing that well – I didn't play at all last week so I just came out and winged it."
This time, that was good enough.
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