NOT A CHANCE. That was my initial thought after receiving a copy of The Back Nine, a documentary about Jon Fitzgerald’s quest to become a tour pro. Jon, a 15 handicap who had turned 40, had the courage (or was it craziness?), determination and support to act on his dream. Within a year, his handicap dropped to 4 and he had some impressive showings in amateur tournaments.
But as this skeptical viewer soon found out, The Back Nine wasn’t really about whether or not Jon would ever tee it up on a professional tour. It was about Jon finding out just how good he could be. And there were also all the unpredictably wonderful life lessons along the way, including making meaningful new connections with his father and stepfather, and having a new appreciation for his role as a husband, father and provider.
Jon is a filmmaker and film festival director, and it shows in The Back Nine. Recently, while playing in a national amateur championship in Palm Springs, he took time out to answer my questions.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What is the current state of your golf game?
JON FITZGERALD: After finishing up post production on the movie, and then handling self distribution and marketing, my game went south a bit. I had got down to a 4 handicap and am closer to a 5 now. I am playing in Palm Springs for the Golf Channel’s Amateur Tour National Championship, and worked hard in the weeks leading up to it. I’m getting back to where I was, with a few new swing changes that should see me get closer to scratch sooner.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How has this golf and tournament season gone for you?
JON FITZGERALD: A bit ironic, since I’m making a movie about improving, yet the filmmaking process has actually hurt my game some. I did manage to play well enough over the season to qualify (finished second in my Los Angeles Tour) for the National Championships, being played here at PGA WEST.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: If you had to boil it down, what do you believe is the key to rapid improvement in golf?
JON FITZGERALD: A combination of a better short game and stronger mental game. Dr Joe Parent (Zen Golf) and Katherine Roberts (Yoga For Golfers) really made a difference.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What have been the most challenging aspects about your golf quest?
JON FITZGERALD: Working on my game while making the movie. I also have work in film production and family obligations that make the time for practice difficult.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: What has been the biggest surprise?
JON FITZGERALD: Probably the personal journey that this became outside of golf. I learned a lot about family and priorities, and life in general. Golf certainly is a great metaphor for life, and I see it more every time I play.
I have a greater understanding of the game and where to apply my time. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything, or 10 years for golfers to play at an expert level. I see now just how committed you have to be to make it happen.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: How are family life and work going?
JON FITZGERALD: My family is very supportive and we are starting a production company called Back Nine Studios, which has taken a lot of time but is very exciting.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Do you have any regrets?
JON FITZGERALD: Not one. This has been an incredible journey and the adventure continues. I do hope to spend more time on my next visit to Scotland. Our trip was amazing, but too short.
ARMCHAIR GOLF: Any final thoughts?
JON FITZGERALD: Perhaps the most gratifying thing about this project is the effect the movie has had on golfers and non golfers, on an inspirational level. People seem to connect with the idea that it’s never to late to become what you wanted to be.
−The Armchair Golfer