There was a time when Alex Prugh would step away from the golf course during the winter months and head to a nearby mountain, trading in his irons for a set of snow skis.
This January, the University of Washington graduate had a slightly different agenda.
As 2010 dawned, Prugh made his debut on the Professional Golf Association Tour with two top-five finishes in his first three events. After placing fifth at the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, the 25-year-old followed it up with a similar result at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
In Palm Springs, Prugh was tied for the lead going into the last round and played in the final group that included eventual winner Bill Haas. Prugh closed strong in only his second PGA event, registering birdies on the last three holes to finish 28-under for the tournament, just two strokes short of the championship.
“Walking up to the grandstand with that final group was a good feeling,” said Prugh, who concluded a stellar four-year career at Washington in 2007.
The impressive start on golf’s most visible stage came after Prugh spent two full seasons on the Nationwide Tour – a qualifying circuit for the PGA – and earned his pro card after placing in the top 25 on the money list for 2009.
The highlight of Prugh’s tenure as a Nationwide golfer came in March of last year when he vaulted to a championship at the Michael Hill New Zealand Open, closing out an 8-under par final round with two eagles, including a 25-foot putt.
“That really kickstarted my year,” Prugh said. “Getting the win early, I automatically had an exemption (on the Nationwide Tour) next year. I didn’t have to pressure myself.”
Prugh wound up placing in the top 10 at five Nationwide events in 2009 and compiling $233,325 in winnings. The successful season resulted in the equivalent of a minor league baseball player being called up to the majors. On Jan. 17, Prugh was part of the PGA’s opening day lineup at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He made the cut and shot 1-over for the tournament, good enough for 72nd place.
Playing at the Waialae Country Club on the same docket as names like Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, Prugh said it was clear that he had reached golf’s premier level – though in secure stride.
“It’s never felt overwhelming,” he said. “Having a good start, you can play with a lot of confidence.”
Prugh’s competitive edge propelled him to an extraordinary run at Ferris High School in Spokane where he was named to the All Greater Spokane League team four years in a row. As a senior, Prugh took home the 4A crown at the state tournament in Kennewick, finishing at 4-under to join his brother Corey, also a Husky, and father Steve in the family anthology of state champions.
Steve, a pro at Manito Golf and Country Club, said that while the sport was important in the Prugh household, it never did define individual worth.
“We talked about how who you are as a human being has nothing to do with what your golf score is,” Steve said.
Corey preceded Alex at the University of Washington by three years. The brothers were part of a sixth place finish at the NCAA tournament in 2004, a year in which Alex was named to the PING honorable mention All-American team. The following season, Alex helped the Huskies to their first Pac-10 title since 1988 and a third-place showing at the NCAA championship.
“From day one, he just settled in like a veteran,” said UW head coach Matt Thurmond. “Alex really has a lot of confidence, but it’s nothing flamboyant. He’s just very consistent.”
Thurmond said that Prugh’s early success on the pro tour can be attributed in part to his ability to remained focused.
“I’m sure even Alex is a little surprised at how well he’s done, but I also realize that he knows he can do it,” he said.
As far as his plans for the remainder of the year, Prugh said he has mapped out “a tentative schedule” that will hinge on how well he’s playing. The average PGA competitor takes part in around 25 events throughout the season. One of Prugh’s goals is to qualify for the Tour Championship in September, a tournament that features the top 30 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings. Prugh currently ranks 33rd.
“I’m always setting goals and trying to improve,” Prugh said. “I don’t want to get too comfortable.”
As he deals with the daily demands of pro golf, Prugh said he appreciates his dad’s advice to stay levelheaded on and off the golf course.
“I know it’s important to have respect for the game and respect for people around you,” he said. “Fortunately, I have a great support group. I just feel very lucky to be playing a sport for a living. I don’t want to ever take it for granted.”