Many collegiate athletes hope to become a professional in their respective sports, and many fail.
Senior Richie Schembechler is among the select few, however, who succeed as the former Pioneer golfer recently became a professional golfer.
The decision was a no-brainer.
“It has kind of always been the plan,” Schembechler said. “It has always just been a dream of mine to play professional golf.”
Near the end of summer, Schembechler finally pulled the trigger as he executed his plan to become professional by accepting amenities like sponsorships. His main endorser currently is TaylorMade golf, who gave him a new set of clubs, a bag with his name on it, free hats and 20% off wholesale pricing for clothing.
After his last collegiate season in spring 2012 Schembechler said he had hoped to go pro immediately. The reason he waited and decided to retain his amateur status until the end of the summer was because he said he was not playing well.
The main culprit for his subpar play was the swing changes he has been going through with swing coach Mike Emery, the 2010 Ohio Open champion. He began the process of retooling his swing last winter, sometime in February.
Schembechler said he went to Emery after taking a few lessons with him to change his swing. The changes have been drastic and comprehensive.
Basically they have reworked everything straight from the grip down. There have certainly been a lot of growing pains.
[pullquote]For his first tournament I just told him to play smart,” Lower said. “You are playing for money now, basically for your living and you don’t want to throw shots away because it’s like throwing money away.”[/pullquote]
“Oh gosh the first five months were horrible,” Schembechler said. “I could hardly hit a golf ball….it probably won’t feel fully natural until I have a full year with it.”
Others, like former teammate and professional golfer Justin Lower, certainly noticed a difference in his swing too and could tell he was struggling for a long time. He also noticed considerable strides however.
“It looks a lot better than when he started,” said Lower, who was the 2012 Tigertown Open and Ohio Open champion. “When he first started going through that swing change at times it was pretty ugly, but from what I saw in July it was looking a lot better. He is a really hard worker and as hard as he works it shouldn’t take too much longer.”
The changes seem to be working well as Schembechler’s ball flight has gone from more a hook, a right-to-left shot shape, to a straighter more powerful flight.
“Since seeing Emery he is a much better ball striker,” said senior golfer and former teammate Tyler Light. “He has always been a great iron player, but now he hits the ball very straight.”
Life as a professional
Now that he has his swing to a comfortable level he has started entering tournaments. In fact, his first tournament as a professional came last Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 17-18, at the two-day Toledo Open.
Before entering his first tournament Lower, who has been a professional for nearly two years now, gave him advice he knows will pay off−don’t forget you are playing for your well-being now.
“For his first tournament I just told him to play smart,” Lower said. “You are playing for money now, basically for your living and you don’t want to throw shots away because it’s like throwing money away.”
Schembechler did a pretty bang up job of heeding to his best friend from childhood’s advice as he finished a respectable 29th in a 105 player field by shooting a cumulative one-over par total (74-71) on the par 72 Sylvania Country Club course in Toledo, Ohio.
Another aspect of becoming professional that Schembechler said he is learning is to juggle is his time.
Currently he is still taking classes at Malone in order to graduate with his business administration degree in December by taking 16 credit hours, working at The Elms Country Club and practicing, of course, until dark each evening.
As for his practice, one of the best pieces of advice he has received actually involves learning how to practice more efficiently.
“The best advice I have received would probably be to stay patient,” Schembechler said. “And, because like the guys on tour all hit it about the same and the difference is chipping and putting most days, I have been told to start practicing chipping and putting like 70-30, 70% putting and chipping and 30% hitting.”
This sort of practice routine has been a shift from years past for him, but a welcome one as he has seen a healthy improvement in his short game.
“It has definitely been a lot more short game stuff and it is starting to improve, especially my putting,” Schembechler said.
Lower believes this sort of practice must continue because as a guy who has been doing it he has seen that being hot with the putter and having a great short game is a must to win.
“Your short game is something you have to keep improving because you never get up and down 100% of the time throughout the course of a year or go without a three putt,” Lower said. “Basically, it is just about managing your time and practicing to get better and not to think you are getting better.”
Future goals and plans
Looking ahead, Schembechler is planning on moving down south for the winter once he has finished his schooling here at Malone to start his professional golf career. He plans are to move down there with best friend Lower, who is certainly excited to have his friend join him.
“To have one of my friends join me in the pro ranks is really cool,” Lower said. “I look forward to start traveling with him and practicing with him more, even more than what we did in college. It should be really fun.”
As for his prospects as a pro, friends think the sky is the limit, namely because of his remarkable work ethic and the ability to grind out rounds.
“He’s a tremendously hard worker,” Lower said. “He can almost outwork me.”
“I really don’t know (how good he can be) I mean it’s up to him,” Light said. “He has the best work ethic out of anybody…He can go as far as he wants, he is a grinder and knows how to put the golf ball in the hole. You can’t really teach that, you just kind of have it and he has it.”
For Schembechler he hopes to one day win and be one of the best players on the biggest tour in the world, the PGA Tour, but for now he is just taking it one day, one step at a time.
“I would like to be the best in the world, but I don’t know,” Schembechler said. “I don’t have experience with professional golf yet so I don’t know how I am going to react. I could make it nowhere or make it big, you never know. I just want to take it one step at a time.”
Whether he makes it or not, he knows one thing−he wants to stay in golf for life.
“Basically I want to stay in golf forever,” Schembechler said.
Chris Sherwood is sports editor for The Aviso AVW.