(WIVB) – Every golfer knows what it means to grind. It’s at once the most beautiful and exasperating of pastimes. Golf will elevate you. It will also crush your spirit. But the sport draws on that essential human quality, to push on, to persevere.
Peter Creighton knows all about grinding. Creighton, who starred for the golf team at Canisius High in the late 2000s, has been knocking around the minor golf circuit since graduating from Florida Southern seven years ago.
He struggled at the bottom of the sport after turning pro in 2013. It has been a slow, steady, often discouraging grind. But he keeps at it, and he continues to get a little better. In 2017, he broke through to the PGA’s Latin American tour. A year ago, he spent the season on the PGA China tour.
Last fall, Creighton reached the finals of the qualifier for the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA’s top developmental circuit. In previous iterations, it was called the Nike and Nationwide, among others. Most recently, it was the web.com and had a stop at Peek ’n Peek before losing sponsorship this season.
The grind continues, however. Creighton didn’t fare well enough in the final round of qualifying to earn a permanent card in the Korn Ferry. He got conditional status, which means he could graduate to the PGA Tour if he did well enough in the Korn Ferry, golf’s version of Triple-A baseball.
The thing is, he has to go through weekly qualifiers to simply get into events. Creighton has yet to qualify for a Korn Ferry tourney. He barely missed in Jacksonville early this week.
“The unfortunate thing is my status doesn’t guarantee me anything,” Creighton said by phone Tuesday. “The only way for me to get into an event would be to do well in a Monday qualifier. I’m flying Saturday to Utah for one. So I’m doing the next four or five of those and trying to see if we get hot.
“I’ve been playing pretty good, so it’s definitely a time for me to do Mondays.”
All it takes is one hot day, and then a chance to prove himself in the Korn Ferry, the pathway to the PGA these days. It’s a tough road, but there’s a long list of PGA pros who got there the hard way, who had to grind through the minors before breaking through to the big time.
“It’s a process that takes longer than everybody thinks,” said Creighton, a Kenmore native. “Everybody sees guys like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. These guys come out and they’re ready. But there’s a lot of guys who don’t get there until they’re 30, 31, 32.
“It’s a grind. Not to sound like our Bills coach, but you’ve just got to trust the process and keep grinding. Eventually, hopefully, things start clicking. They have for me in the last year and hopefully they continue to.”
Golf is an honest game. You can’t fake it. A 75 is a 75. But Creighton knows he’s getting closer. He held his own on the PGA Latin American tour in 2018, playing in such locales as Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Ecuador. He won just a shade over $10,000. His top finish was 14th. But he felt the process coming along.
Last year in China, he had his struggles. But he also had some tremendous rounds, and it gave him confidence heading to the Korn Ferry qualifier, where he played some of the best golf in his life and made it to the finals.
He’s now 30. But he’s in the best physical and mental shape of his life. Creighton lives in Jacksonville. He plays and practices at TPC Sawgrass. During the pandemic dozens of pros were there, working out and playing matches. He played Jim Furyk and beat him. He lost narrowly to Vijay Singh.
Furyk and Singh, former major winners, are 3-4 on the PGA’s all-time money list, each with a shade over $71 million in career earnings. Imagine playing a couple of your childhood idols straight-up.
At one point, Furyk told him to keep doing what he’s doing and believe in himself. Singh, long regarded as the hardest worker on tour, walked by Creighton at the end of a long practice session, said “You have a very good work ethic,” and kept on walking.
“Peter might look back some day and remember these two golfers who have won $70 million each,” said his father, Paul Creighton. “I don’t think he’ll ever forget it.
“But that was never his goal. He never called me those three days. I asked about Furyk. He said ‘Oh, I beat him by two.’ I said, ‘Were you going to call me?’ He said, ‘Dad, my goal is not just to make the PGA, but to compete in the PGA.’
“I got off the phone and said, ‘Makes sense’” Paul said. “When he played Furyk, it crystallized everything. Furyk was a gentleman, incredibly professional. He realized this guy keeps everything so simple. So if Peter ever is successful, it’s because he’s been given these opportunities. He’s created every opportunity he stepped through.”
Creighton would tell you he’s had a lot of help from his biggest role models, his father, Paul, and mother, Mary Ellen. Paul is interim chair of Pediatric Dentistry at UB and has a thriving dentistry business. Mary Ellen is director of nursing at Kaleida Health. No doubt, perseverance runs in the family.
“I have an incredible support system,” Creighton said. “My dad always says, ‘You can’t be half-pregnant.’ So if you’re going to do something, do it to the absolute extent, so regardless of what happens you can live with it.”
They didn’t want to look back and wonder if Peter should have given it more of a shot. If you’re going for it, be all-in. Sure, there were times when he questioned himself. But he’s a competitor, has been ever since his days as a top youth hockey player. Golf tortured him at times. But he never wanted to quit.
“Yeah, it can drive you to places,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t get me wrong. I missed the first eight cuts when I played the Latin tour. You’re supposed to get better down there. I’m thinking to myself, ‘How am I getting better? How is this making me better?’”
Paul says his son never considered giving it up. But Peter was discouraged. He felt he was disappointing his parents. Paul told him every child wants to make his parents proud. What mattered was that he make himself proud. He would endorse any decision he made.
“What do you want me to do?” Paul asked him. “I have a suggestion, which you can ignore. I think you need to talk to this gentleman, Tony Ziegler.”
Ziegler, whose father Larry was a PGA touring pro, runs the Ziegler Golf School in Orlando. He told Peter he could get to the next step. Paul calls it “stepping over the stones” to get to your goal. Ziegler made a difference; Creighton made strides in his second year in Latin America.
Last May, he began working with Tim Cook in Hilton Head, which polished his game even further. He took some putting lessons from John Graham at Webster Golf Club outside Rochester.
“Both of those guys were very very helpful,” Peter said. “Not that anyone before them was not, but I needed to change it up a little bit and needed a fresh idea.”
“I think a lot of it is maturity, too, and belief. You start playing better and seeing results. I played OK last year in China. I didn’t have great results, but I played better. I started seeing some signs. In (Korn Ferry) Q school, in the second stage I probably played the best I’ve played. In the final stage, I played well but I just didn’t make any birdies.”
His father sees it as a journey, which can be its own reward. Peter has been growing up in the golf quest, finding himself. Great striving in the face of failure is the story of man, right?
But there’s thousands of talented young players out there with the same dream. For all the natural talent that has come through Buffalo in recent times, there’s no one from Erie County on the PGA Tour. Creighton, laboring at those Korn Ferry qualifiers, is the closest.
“People don’t realize how good everybody actually is,” said Jamie Miller, an Orchard Park native who played minor pro golf a decade ago before quitting at 26. Miller’s parents, Cindy and Allen Miller, were pro players who became top teaching pros in Buffalo.
“The hard part is the cost, the lifestyle,” said Miller, now a financial advisor. “People say it’s nice you’re out there chasing your dream. But it’s kind of a nightmare. I got frustrated with it. Looking back, I still think I could have made it. But I did not want to be the guy at 35, trying to make a career at something else.”
Creighton has his MBA, if the golf dream evaporates. He comes from a family of achievers. His older brother, Drew, played golf at Canisius College and is a sports medicine doctor in New York City. Sister Kit, who once won the Buffalo women’s district title at 18 and played golf at Florida Southern, is in graduate school in Atlanta. Sister Maureen is a management analyst at Catholic Health.
“I’ve had two incredible role models from the standpoint of ‘If you want something, go work for it,’” Peter said. “That’s all I can do.”
Last year around Christmas time, Creighton saw a photo of himself and thought, “I’m way overweight.” So he began seeing a trainer in Tampa, who works with big-league baseball players.
He started wearing a Whoop, a device that measures your heart rate and nervous system and teaches you the value of quality sleep. Rory McIlroy swears by the Whoop. Justin Thomas uses it. It’s become all the rage with PGA players. Paul Creighton is with minority children at UB, teaching them how your body reacts to diet, sleep, and other functions.
Peter dropped 20 pounds and feels stronger than ever. He’s 5-9, 185, but bombs it off the tee. Maybe he’s crazy, chasing this elusive dream. But he’s discovered a lot about himself along the way, and only someone who has stared golf in the face could know how close he is to the goal.
“I mean, it’s a gamble,” he said. “There’s no question about it. I have put all my eggs in this basket. It’s very difficult to do this correctly without support. I go back to the half-pregnant line. You have to be all in on it. It’s a full-time job. I’ve looked at it that way since I turned pro. It’s seven days a week, and most weeks it’s at least 60 hours.
“In the last year and a half, I finally started feeling like I can beat people. Playing good golf with good players and traveling is fun when it’s going well. It’s not fun when you’ve played five weeks in a row and you just want to get home for a week and chill out and work on some things.
“But it beats the hell out of sitting behind a desk.”