Rocky Mount's Claytor 7th in pro golf tournament at Belmont

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Rocky Mount native Daniel Claytor finished tied for seventh in the SwingThought professional tournament this week held at Belmont Lake.


Sports Writer

Friday, June 21, 2019

Daniel Claytor isn’t ready for cubicle life. He would rather be punching out of the trees than into an office job.

And for the 28-year-old Rocky Mount native, this is reality. Claytor is chasing his dream of playing professional golf, and that means playing tournaments with the end goal of making the cut to get into the Korn Ferry Tour (previously the Web.com Tour), then making the jump to the PGA Tour.

“I’m not cut out for a nine-to-five right now,” Claytor said. “I love being able to be outside. I’m doing what I love, chasing my dream for the time being. It’s an awesome experience and my parents have been very helpful with that. We agreed that I should never give up on a dream, and we’ll see how long we can do it.”

Dreams like Claytor’s can only be realized in tournaments like the one held this week at Belmont Lake Golf Club.

The Rocky Mount course was the home to the SwingThought Professional Golf tour, a developmental pro tour (just one step away from the Korn Ferry Tour) where golfers gain experience playing in tournaments against stiff competition throughout the year with the end goal of qualifying for higher tours.

On Thursday, Claytor finished tied for seventh in the three-day, 54-hole tournament with a score of 208. He fired a 4-under-par 68 on Tuesday, then closed with a pair of 70s over the final two days.

Forty percent of the field in each tournament receives a payout, and Claytor won $1,407 out of the 26-golfer field. The winner, Blake Kennedy, took home the top prize of $10,000. Kennedy, who carded a three-day score of 199, picked up his first win this season.

“I’ve gone through this twice and missed out on the first stage the first time,” Kennedy said of the two-stage Q-school qualifier which begins in the fall. “I missed the cut by one shot last year. I’m right on the verge.

“I’ve always felt that if you’re up here winning these then you’re right up there with those on any other tour. There’s just such a fine line where we are, where the Web guys are and where the PGA guys are. Sometimes it’s hard to see any difference at all.”

This week’s field was full of talented players. Brendon De Jonge, who has played in a U.S. Open and a Masters, competed this week, while Raleigh native Carter Jenkins withdrew after the opening round after receiving a call to play in the Web.com Tour.

That’s where Claytor, a Northern Nash graduate, finds himself — trying to break away and stand out in a tightly-packed talent group. Claytor’s been playing golf all his life, and went to college at Barton College where he set the lowest scoring average in program history.

After his decorated collegiate playing career he went on to coach at Division II Coker College in South Carolina, before returning to Barton as an assistant coach for the Bulldogs’ men’s and women’s teams.

Now, Claytor is focusing on his own game.

He’s in his second year of playing golf full-time, which means playing in tournaments across the east coast throughout the year. He estimates that he’ll play in 25 tournaments, along with Monday qualifying events.

He drives to most tournaments in his 10-year-old Honda Accord that has seen more than 269,000 miles. He’ll either stay in inexpensive hotels or with various host families, all while budgeting his food and gas money.

Some tournament locations have taken him on a 12-hour road trip to Upstate New York, as well as destinations in South Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.

“If I can drive there, I’m going,” Claytor said. “I enjoy it. I enjoy the travel. My dad traveled a lot when he was younger, so I guess I got that traveler gene from him.”

Claytor didn’t have to travel far this week as Belmont is Claytor’s home course. His parents have a home near the 12th tee, and Claytor was instrumental in bringing the SwingThought Tour through Rocky Mount.

He said players praised the conditions and quality of the course, which will be a likely destination for the tournament next season.

Belmont general manager and head golf professional Tim Wilke was excited to show off the course for a tournament of this quality.

“I’ve had a blast here the past few days,” Wilke said. “I’ve wanted something that had the credibility, with these types of players, to come here so that we had something to measure the golf course by. This is great, man.”

Next week, the SwingThought Tour heads to Farmington for a two-day tournament held at Bermuda Run. That’s where Claytor will be, the next step in chasing down that elusive Tour card.

“I got to the second stage and was one stage short of getting a Web card last year,” Claytor said. “That’s the further I’ve gotten. I had some injuries in the past, but I’m definitely getting back on track and hopefully this will be the year we’ll get there.”