Dream and tears of a golfer who captured the world’s attention

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times
·4 min read

PALM HARBOR — How do you tell a story in three words?

How can you possibly explain a lifetime chasing a dream that seemed meant for others? How do you acknowledge sacrifices so personal and so common that you could not begin to repay? How do you capture America’s attention without even trying?

“I made it.”

That’s it. Those three words were all it took. Well, those three words and the tears that followed when Michael Visacki called his father outside an Innisbrook Resort clubhouse Monday afternoon to tell him he had qualified for his first PGA Tour event at the Valspar Championship.

The call was captured on video and went viral by day’s end on Twitter. Countless people watching the most personal moment of Visacki’s life, feeling a lump in their throats for a 27-year-old vagabond golfer from Sarasota they’d never heard of.

Without knowing how much his working-class parents gave up to fund his golf career, those three words told us a story of perseverance, love and hope. Without knowing he drives a 2010 Honda Accord with nearly 200,000 miles on it, those three words explained seven years of mini tour events that barely pay enough to cover expenses.

And Thursday morning, those three words explained the dozens of friends who showed up to follow Visacki around the Copperhead course for his PGA Tour debut. Nearby, away from the crowd, his father Mike Sr. quietly explained why he and his wife Donna were willing to skip a lot of life’s niceties — and some of life’s necessities — to fund a longshot in one of the world’s most expensive sports.

“This was his dream,” Mike Sr. said. “How could we not try to give it to him? I don’t need steak; I can eat hamburger. I don’t need new shoes; I can still walk in my old shoes. Whether you’re poor or rich, you have to have passion. He has a passion for golf like nothing I’ve ever seen. So this is what a mother and father are supposed to do, no?”

So I ask why Donna isn’t here to see the family dream come true.

“She had to work,” Mike Sr. shrugs.

This is how it’s been, going on 20 years. Mike and Donna have run a transport company for elderly and medically needy clients, and their son has honed his game away from the fancy courses and expensive lessons of many of his competitors.

As a young boy, they would drop him off at a course after school and come pick him up long after everyone else had departed. They would talk their way into junior tournaments with the promise that they would pay the entry fees in installments. There were times he qualified for bigger tournaments, and they would have to skip them because they couldn’t afford the expense.

“What they have done for me, I mean I can’t thank them enough. I can’t repay them enough,” Visacki said. “Sometimes there were would be nights where they wouldn’t eat, just to give me some food. They would sacrifice, sometimes maybe not paying a phone bill just so I could go and play some junior tournaments.”

So is this the payoff? Is this the beginning of a PGA career that will make all the hard work worth it? Visacki may be a little closer, but there are still no guarantees.

On his first hole Thursday morning, Visacki nailed a 334-yard drive and went on to score a birdie to the delight of all his friends trudging up to the first green. Visacki proceeded to bogey the next three holes in succession.

He eventually steadied himself and finished the round at three over par at 74, but that puts him in a precarious position this morning. Visacki likely will need to shoot 69 or better to make the cut for the final two rounds.

“I hope this gives other guys like me the inspiration to keep going,” he said after Thursday’s round. “I know a lot of guys that just give up.”

In the end, that’s what this story is about. Whether Visacki hits it rich on the PGA Tour and pays his parents back for all their sacrifices, or if this weekend is the highlight of his professional career, they shared a dream and a journey and never gave up on either.

“I can’t express how satisfying it is seeing your kid doing something like this,” Mike Sr. said. “One minute he is just your son, and the next the whole world loves him. It’s unbelievable. I wish every parent could see this happen for their children.”

John Romano can be reached at jomano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.