Of all the former Clemson University
golfers who have gone on to the PGA Tour – Jonathan Byrd
, Lucas Glover
, Charles Warren, Matt Hendrix et al – perhaps none left school with a more glittering amateur resume than D.J. Trahan. The son of golf teaching professional Don Trahan, the lanky 32-year-old parlayed a unique, upright swing (taught to him by his father, his lone instructor) into an eight-year run on the PGA Tour and earnings of $9.5 million.
Then suddenly, over the past two years, Trahan’s career arc seemingly hit a wall.
In 2012, the two-time PGA Tour winner managed just two top-10 finishes in 25 events and saw his yearly earnings slip to $611,142, outside the Top 125 money list that guarantees a player status the following year. This past season was even worse: one top-10 in 16 events (with limited opportunities) and $284,249.
Thus, Trahan – 10 years removed from a magical senior season in college, when he led Clemson to its lone NCAA Golf Championship – finds himself back among the ranks of the developmental Web.com Tour, where his professional career began in 2005.
“Unfortunately, I’ve lost my status on the PGA Tour, though I have full status on the Web.com,” Trahan said during a visit to Clemson to commemorate that 2003 title. “I’ll play some on the (PGA) Tour but it’ll be touch-and-go, maybe five starts. I plan to focus my efforts on getting my game together, finish in the Top 25 (of the Web.com Tour’s season-long rankings) and get my card back.
“I’m not happy where I’m at, but you’ve got to deal with life’s realities and move on. So that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t know why I’m where I am; maybe I lost some motivation. All I know is, I’m going to embrace it and use it as a motivational tool for myself.”
Throughout his PGA Tour stint, Trahan battled a streaky putting stroke that could range from red-hot (notably during his second Tour win at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 2009) to maddeningly cold. In fact, though, he blames his two-year slump on his tee-to-green game, long a major strength.
“I always said putting wasn’t the strongest part of my game, but it’s my ball-striking, which was always my cornerstone and my rock, and that hasn’t been good the last couple of years,” he says. “The long game has caused me to get where I am now; I need to get that back, and if I do, it’ll all fall into place.”
Trahan, who grew up in Hilton Head and Spartanburg as his father moved around in his teaching career, was a four-time All-American at Clemson – longtime Tigers coach Larry Penley credits Trahan’s decision to return for his senior season as the reason Clemson won that 2003 championship – and seemed a sure thing to become a long-running PGA Tour winner. He says he still believes that is his future.
After a bit of a break over the winter, with plans to practice near his Mount Pleasant home and do some hunting with friends, Trahan wants to hit the ground running on the Web.com Tour. His father, nicknamed “The Swing Surgeon,” will continue to work with him as he tries to regain what he lost.
“It’s certainly not his (father’s) fault,” Trahan said. “I think I just lost my touch with myself and my game. Hopefully, I can turn my frustrations into a positive and figure this out.
“I’ve played out there for 10 years, and I know what I’m capable of. I have to deal with the disappointment that I allowed my game to falter to the point where I’m at. Some people say struggles make you stronger, and that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Atlanta; grew up in Hilton Head
; Mount Pleasant
Played at Clemson from 2000-03 and was a four-time All-American (two-time first team); turned professional in 2003, playing the 2004 season on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour; joined the PGA Tour in 2005; failed to retain his Tour card in 2013 and will play the Web.com Tour in 2014.
Won the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2000, earning the first of two Masters’ invitations, and played on the U.S. Walker cup team in 2001; as a senior, led Clemson to the 2003 NCAA Golf Championship; won the Web.com Tour’s Miccosukee Championship in 2004, and two PGA Tour titles, the 2006 Southern Farm Bureau Classic and the 2009 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Where I play:
“Well, I love the Palmetto Club
, and the Country Club of Charleston
. I think Sage Valley
is a special place. I love Harbour Town Golf Links
, of course (Trahan grew up in the Hilton Head area), and I certainly enjoy playing Bulls Bay
; it’s been my home course for a long time. It almost doesn’t feel like … it’s a beautiful private club but it feels like such a laid-back environment.”
Where I eat: “There’ll always be a special place in my heart for Sugar N Spice
in Spartanburg. It’s like a mini-version of The Beacon
and pretty much the same kind of food: burgers, onion rings, fries, all that good stuff. In Charleston
, I love Hall’s Chophouse
, a fantastic restaurant. I’m kind of a foodie, so I enjoy great food, but there are almost too many great restaurants there; Charleston is the best, and downtown is an eater’s paradise. I’ve been to 82 Queen
, and Husk
is very good. I also like Slightly North of Broad
, I think that’s kind of a fun restaurant – oh, and High Cotton
. Those are fancy places and easy picks. Then there’s PDQ
, a new fast-food chicken place, and it’s the best. I think they’re opening one in Columbia
What I do for fun:
“I love hunting and fishing. I’ve met some great friends hunting, and for me, it’s a way to get away from (professional) golf. Everyone needs a release from what they do for work, and it’s been a blessing for me to put the clubs away and not think about golf. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of hunting and hanging out with buddies at my farm in Williamsburg County
, near Kingstree
. I’ve got about 1,000 acres, a little house, and I enjoy going out in the peace and quiet, just me and my Lab, Buckley; I got him a year out of college and he’s been with me a long time. I hope he makes it a long time more, too.”