November 3, 2019

Player’s Take: Trevor Sluman

In his adopted home of Delray Beach, Fla., Rochester, N.Y., native Trevor Sluman is preparing for the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, just a few weeks after securing his status following a second-place Order of Merit finish on PGA TOUR Series-China. Sluman, a two-year PGA TOUR Series-China player and nephew of PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions veteran Jeff Sluman, took an interesting path to golf success as an admitted late-bloomer. While he didn’t even pick up the game until his early teens despite living on one of the best golf courses in the U.S., as a pro, it’s been rapid progress and step-by-step success for Sluman, an accomplished tennis player who originally thought that that sport would be what he would pursue. Then a foot injury occurred, and his trajectory significantly changed.

 

I played golf maybe once or twice with my dad as a kid, but I didn’t really start playing until I was 13, which is pretty late for someone from my family and for someone who grew up literally off the eighth hole at Oak Hill’s East Course.

I was pretty good at tennis. I think had I stuck with it, I would have been at the NCAA collegiate level. I don’t know if I would have been a successful pro or anything like that, but I think I definitely would have played college tennis.

One summer, when I was 13, I had a foot injury, and the doctor said I couldn’t play tennis for a few months. Even after my foot healed, I couldn’t play tennis, so I thought, I have to do something, and all my buddies were playing golf. I felt like I could play golf, at least.

I’ve only picked up the tennis racquet maybe six times since then. I just got the golf bug.

My dad always wanted me to play golf, but he never pushed me. Looking back, I kind of wish he had, but at the same time who knows where my golf would be if he had. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that he never really pushed me into it, and I found my own way into golf.

There never were any golf expectations for me because I started so late. I would say as the years have gone on, I have definitely gotten a bit more publicity in the golf world because of my last name. I do see it, but I don’t see it as much as much as, say, a Taylor Funk, the son of a pro rather than me, the nephew of a pro.

I still have the 2006 issue of Golf Digest somewhere. The magazine showed the top handicap-movers in every single state, and they had a page dedicated to those players. I represented New York because I went from a 35 to an 8 in that four-month summer span during our short golf season in Rochester.  

What I really love about Rochester is it has a really cool small-town feel. We have the Erie Canal that runs right through the city, and every little town has a village. Every weekend in the summer, it seems that every village has its own what it calls Canal Days. It’s a very safe and homey atmosphere and a great place for me to grow up as a kid.

I actually still go back three or four months of the summer. My sister’s still there, my mom’s still there, and my dad goes up for the summer. It’s still home, but I am a Florida resident and pretty much Florida now.

For me as a golfer, Rochester was phenomenal. We have these amazing Donald Ross golf courses all within a square mile of each other. Monroe Golf Club has hosted an LPGA Championship, Oak Hill, obviously, with all of its history, Irondequoit Country Club was home to a Korn Ferry Tour event and the Country Club of Rochester has held two U.S. Women’s Opens (including the first one, in 1953). There is so much great golf in the town.

The Rochester District Golf Association has so many players as members. It was a cool way to start my junior career being in a city full of golf fanatics.

My whole entire childhood and going home for Thanksgiving and Christmas while I was in college was in that house at Oak Hill. My mom sold our family home about five or six years ago. 

My dad is in the restaurant and bar business. Right now, he only owns one restaurant, but back then, when I was a teenager, he had five.

I was busboy my junior and senior years of high school at the Basin Pub in Pittsford. It was a new place my dad owned, and it was a good opportunity for me to be with a new staff. I did that for a couple of years.

I would clean the tables for the servers. But I only had the job for two years. When I went off to college, I didn’t get asked to return.

My sister has taken the restaurant and bar route for her career. With my dad being in the bar business, I’ve learned that you have to be very outgoing and willing to stay out late at night, that kind of thing. I never wanted to go in that direction. My mom has always been the one to read a book, watch movies and drink her tea. I’ve kind of taken on her lifestyle, and my sister is more like my dad. She is managing his restaurant now.

I was two years old when the Ryder Cup was at Oak Hill in 1995. I obviously don’t remember any of that. But in 2003, it was Shaun Micheel hitting that shot on 18 to two inches to win. I was there in 2013 to see Jason Dufner put on a clinic. He just hit the ball unbelievably that week in the rain. I missed the Senior PGA this year, but in 2008 the Senior PGA was at Oak Hill, with Jay Haas winning. My uncle was in contention that whole week, and we were out watching him.

In ’03, I got a bunch of autographs of TOUR players. I was loving that, and it was the first time for me going to a tournament. Because of my uncle, we got the player family dining badges, and I was all excited and jacked up as a 10-year-old to get through security and see all the players. It was unbelievable for me. I still have a bunch of that stuff. I got Jim Furyk’s autograph, and I got Phil’s (Mickelson).

I was a junior in high school the first time I broke 70. I was 17. So, it took me four years once I really started playing golf, and that round was at Oak Hill’s East Course. Oak Hill let all the high schools in the area have matches on Mondays, and we would have four of those a year.

I wasn’t recruited at all out of high school. Not in the slightest. Towson (University) was more or less a school that gave me an opportunity to walk on the team. I had a tournament that summer in Washington, D.C., right before orientation, and the Towson assistant coach saw me, and he told me he would give me preferential treatment as a walk-on. I played a year at Towson, and I wouldn’t say I had a great year by any stretch, but it was solid, and I had a solid summer.

At the Monroe Invitational in Rochester after my freshman year, I played a round with a guy from Rochester, Chris Malec. He was going to be a senior at Louisville, and I played well at that event. He was impressed, and he said he was going to call the coach and see if he couldn’t get me over to Louisville.

The next thing I know, the Louisville coach, Mark Crabtree, called me in July, I visited the campus, and I transferred there in August. It was a quick change of events.

For all four of my years playing college golf, I was in a different conference. I went from CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) to Big East to AAC (American Athletic Conference) to ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference).

I’ve taken a lot of leaps over the course of every year. I’ve never had a point in my golf where I had an a-ha moment, but every single year at Louisville, every year since I’ve turned pro, I’ve just gotten better and better, bit by bit. I would say since I turned pro, I realized I have a legitimate shot to be on the PGA TOUR. At Louisville, I was like, I might as well give it a chance, and we’ll see what happens.

Yet, I didn’t turn pro right out of college. I went to grad school and got my MBA, at Lynn University. Once I turned pro, though, my first year I started seeing some progress and then the following year a bit more. The next thing I know, I just finished No. 2 on the Order of Merit in China.

How did I end up in China? So, Joe Gunerman and I spent one year together at Towson. We hadn’t really talked that much with each other after that, but I saw on Facebook that he was playing in China. I contacted him and asked him what the deal was with PGA TOUR Series-China. Joe convinced me that that was the route to go. I don’t regret it one bit, that’s for sure.

I really embraced China even after a bit of culture shock at first. I’m amazed at how safe it is over there. That’s the No. 1 thing I noticed. We would go out at night, and we’d be walking around a city of millions and millions of people, and I never once felt threatened. It’s just so safe, and everybody is so respectful. It’s kind of a sad thing, but you really don’t get that in a lot of big cities throughout the world. Over there you do. 

I played two events early on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 and missed the cut in both, so I didn’t work through the reshuffle. I thought about pursuing Monday qualifying, and I considered going back to China. I decided on China and had a hot start to the season, finishing fifth, winning and a 10th-place in my first three tournaments. I was like, All right, I made the right decision.

That start really was most memorable for me because I made a good career decision. I could have pursued Monday qualifying, but those are such gambles. I thought I could keep getting better if I played in China, with a chance to play in events. It’s really worked out.

Mixed emotions is the best way to describe the day I won my tournament in Sanya. I woke up that morning and was having breakfast with Ryan Siegler. We were looking outside, and it was perfect weather. Ryan got a text from another player who wrote and said we were delayed an hour. I was confused. Why? It was perfect outside. The next thing I knew, I got a text that we were delayed another 30 minutes. Then news started spreading that Arie had passed.

Tournament officials declared me the winner as the 54-hole leader, and I still tell myself I played great golf that week. I shot 18-under for three rounds and was bogey-free. But I can’t help but feel awful because while I won, a person who was known and loved so much on Tour lost his life.

I’ll never forget Arie Irawan, and I’ll never forget Arie’s name. It was a very sad day but at the same time it was a day that helped my career in a moment when I needed something.

Now that the offseason is here, I’m not playing too much. I do a couple hours here and there, playing maybe nine holes. After I go on vacation, I won’t touch a club for 10 days and then I come back and will start grinding and preparing for Korn Ferry Tour Q-School in December to see if I can get a bit better status.

My uncle has been great giving me all the help in the world. We’ve been playing the last three or four winters here in Delray Beach pretty much all year together.

With this great, No. 2 status I have because of China, whatever happens at Q-School, I feel like I can free-wheel it a little. I can go out and play aggressive golf. I have nothing to really worry about because I will still have a good season ahead regardless of how Q-School plays out. Last year, one week was going to determine my whole Korn Ferry Tour year. This year, it won’t. I’m just going to go out there and play worry-free and then get ready for January.