By John Reger
Paul Goydos was a lunch pail guy, blue collar right down to his hat. He didn’t even have a sponsor, so he wore a Long Beach State Baseball hat that had the team’s nickname, “Dirtbags,” on the side.
Upon Goydos’ entry into the tumultuous professional golfing world in the 1990s, America instantly identified with the lifelong Long Beach resident, and as a result rooted for him whenever he showed up on the first page of the leaderboard.
“I would think that everyone who does what we do for a living has got to enjoy that for a little bit,” said Goydos, 46, who plays out of Virginia and Dove Canyon Country Clubs. “You can say that all you want, that I don’t want it, but I think having people recognize you for what you do is not a bad thing in any way, shape or form.”
The stage has been set for the world to recognize Goydos now, thanks to fellow Southland native and 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin. Although Goydos has no team competition experience, Pavin selected him as one of four assistant captains for this year’s U.S. team, alongside veteran players Tom Lehman, Jeff Sluman and Davis Love III, when it tees off in October in Wales.
Who would have thought having no qualifications made someone the perfect candidate for a coveted job? Certainly not Goydos, a product of Long Beach’s Woodrow Wilson High School and golfer at Long Beach State University before turning professional in the late 1980s. When Pavin approached the seasoned Tour grinder about being an assistant, Goydos couldn’t believe it.
“He briefly talked about it last year,” Goydos said. “I was like, ‘Is he insane?’ He came back to me at the Sony (in January) and asked me do it. I was flabbergasted.”
It’s been hard for Goydos to fulfill the goals he has set for himself over the years, but his career hasn’t been anything like he envisioned it.
After all, it wasn’t like he was a can’t-miss golf prospect whose career was derailed. Goydos wasn’t sure he would ever play professionally. He graduated with a degree in finance from Long Beach State in 1988, and although he won the 1990 Long Beach Open, he struggled as a mini-tour player, supplementing his income with a desk job after college. There was also a stretch of substitute teaching at some of the roughest public schools in Long Beach, where shootings at recess were the pop quiz du jour.
Goydos thought there had to be a better way to earn a living, and as timing would have it, the Ben Hogan Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) arrived.
Goydos thrived, winning the 1992 Yuma Open while substitute teaching, and realized he was talented enough to play on the PGA Tour. He confirmed that by finishing tied for 16th at that year’s Q-School, and after falling below the money line on Tour, tied for 18th at Q-School the next year to earn his card once again. He was the definition of “Tour grinder,” making enough to keep his card and playing more than 30 events a year.
His biggest win to that date came in 1996, when Goydos won the Bay Hill Invitational and finally started to feel comfortable and secure on Tour. And he did just that for the next five years, racking up just enough high-priced finishes to keep his place on Tour. In 2001, however, he finished out of the top 125.
He played his way back in the next year, but by 2004, Goydos began to experience a stretch of personal turmoil. He took a break from golf toward the end of the year as a result of sinus surgery and hip problems. And although he received a major medical extension from the Tour for 2005, more trouble was brewing.
Goydos’ health paled in comparison to the problems he was having at home. Simultaneously, Goydos and his wife, college sweetheart Wendy, were experiencing marital troubles. Wendy had suffered from severe migraine headaches since high school, and in an effort to relieve the pain became addicted to painkillers. Their marriage ended that year.
Now a single dad, Goydos went from professional golfer to professional father. He went to court and obtained full custody of his (then) 13- and 11-year-old daughters, Chelsea and Courtney. With his family as a priority, he took time off from the Tour to raise them, and would do so again in 2009, upon learning of Wendy’s sudden passing.
“I can’t imagine a parent who’s financially able to do it who wouldn’t do it,” Goydos would later tell Golf World when asked about single parenting. “If they wouldn’t, that says volumes about our society and where we need to go.”
By 2006, Goydos felt confident he could return to Tour, but only did so on a limited basis. He played in 24 events but never stayed out on the road for more than two weeks at a time. The only exception was during the end of the season, when he played a tournament in Orlando and his daughters were able to travel with him.
In his final event of the year he finished tied for second, and in 2007 he won for the first time since Bay Hill in 1996, at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He nearly won again in 2008, losing to Sergio Garcia in a playoff at The Players Championship, but the event made Goydos a darling of network television.
“I think I’m a better player than I’ve ever been,” Goydos told NBC’s Bob Costas during the event. “That said, so is everybody else who plays out here … which is the problem.”
This year, Goydos shot a 59 in the first round of the John Deere Classic on July 8, making him only the fourth player in history to do so. “I don’t know where it came from,” Goydos told reporters. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be able to touch it.”
Having garnered the sarcastic nickname Sunshine from his fellow Tour players years ago, Goydos’ outlook is now a little brighter in a different way. He enjoys coming to work now, and his play has improved at a time when many Tour players are counting the days until they turn 50 and are eligible for the Champions Tour.
“I think part of the fun is we are entertainers, and there is something to that, people rooting for you,” Goydos said. “Golf fans are 95 percent positive, and other sports, I think it’s probably fifty-fifty, depending what team you’re on.”
Come October, Goydos will experience a lot of the team aspect, when he finds out what being an assistant captain of this year’s Ryder Cup team will bring. The closest Goydos came to team competition is when he played in the Bob Hope Classic or the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am with amateurs. Pavin, an Oxnard native and former UCLA standout, wanted that different dynamic for the team though, and thought Goydos was perfect.
“Paul Goydos, with his lack of team experience, makes him an ideal choice,” Pavin reasoned. “He is unconventional, thinks outside the box, and is an excellent judge of character and talent. Paul is also well respected amongst his peers. He will give me his untarnished opinion, which no doubt will have his unique stamp on it.”
The response from one of the most wry individuals on the PGA Tour was totally in character. “It came down to me and Brett Favre,” Goydos deadpanned, pointing out that both he and Favre have the same Ryder Cup experience. Though his self-deprecating humor is his most potent weapon off the golf course, he was, regardless, stunned by Pavin’s invitation.
“I’m still trying to figure out exactly what Corey sees, but he’s a pretty smart guy,” Goydos said. “I have a lot of respect for Corey. It’s a great honor. Hopefully I can live up to the expectations he has.”
Goydos was honored this year by the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association with the Jack Lemmon Ambassador of Golf Award — a feather in his cap to add to his earlier inductions into 1996’s Long Beach Golf Hall of Fame and the Long Beach State University Athletics Hall of Fame. Being named Ryder Cup assistant captain, Goydos might have achieved one of his most impressive honors. And even though he jokes about it, Pavin’s selection means a lot to him. It was further validation that the Tour veteran had gone from afterthought to forefront, the continuation of a comeback that is as consistent as his game.
“It’s going to be a chance of a lifetime,” Goydos said.
It is fitting, since his life has been renewed both on and off the course.