RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - Cameron Percy has long lived with unfashionable frugality almost unbecoming of a golfer on the world’s most lucrative circuit, but his decision to eschew a lifestyle of the rich and famous is suddenly looking wiser.
Percy has earned $3.5 million in prize money in nearly a decade on the PGA Tour, small change compared with the sport’s biggest names.
His decisions not to splash cash on luxury cars and private jet flights reflect a prudence borne of a modest Australian upbringing and an acknowledgement of the precarious nature of his profession even at the best of times.
“Every pro I’ve ever known has had a year where they’ve played like crap,” the amiable 45-year-old said at the Country Club of Wakefield Plantation course where he lives with his wife and three boys adjacent to the second hole in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I’ve always put money aside in case (of loss of form or injury). I drive a $20,000 car (Nissan Altima), don’t have a boat. Mum and dad taught me to save.
“My accountant is always suggesting I put money in the stock market but most of it is in the bank. What I’ve found from this (pandemic-related economic contraction) is that people don’t save any money any more.”
The U.S.-based PGA Tour, which has not played since the Players Championship was abandoned after the first round on March 12, will be shut down for at least two months.
The stoppage is bad news for most players but could hardly have come at a better time for Percy, who was struggling with painful tendinitis in his right wrist that was causing a significant loss of power.
“I was about to go into seven tournaments in eight weeks, so for me it was a godsend,” he said.
“I’ve been in so much pain hitting the golf ball. I was just trying to play through it and I’ve lost a heap of distance because when I get to the top of the swing that’s when it hurts.
“And it won’t let me go at the ball so I can’t hit it as far as I need to and with these young kids hitting it so far, it means me being 40 or 50 yards behind them all the time.”
Percy, speaking on the range after giving a lesson to a friend’s son, said he is taking the coronavirus more seriously than many in his neighborhood.
However, old habits die hard. In order to demonstrate a finer point of swing mechanics, he sometimes got closer to his pupil than social distancing guidelines would suggest prudent.
As Percy spoke, there were only a handful of golfers on the range on an idyllic early spring afternoon, and the car park was less than a quarter full, though he said the course had been more crowded than usual the previous weekend.
Golf for now is exempt from a mandatory stay-at-home order set to begin throughout the state of North Carolina on Monday afternoon. Courses, however, have been banned from allowing players to share carts, along with other precautions.
“There are no water coolers, no towels in the golf carts, no rakes in the bunkers and the cups are upside down so the ball won’t go in the hole,” said Percy, who is concerned that many people have not been heeding warnings seriously.
“There was (a community gathering) in the street and people were hugging and kissing. They’re like, ‘this is not that big a deal’.
“You can tell which people watch different news outlets. It’s pretty obvious which ones are watching Fox News.”
Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond