The 96 juniors competing this week in the E-Z-GO Vaughn Taylor Championship at Jones Creek probably don't recognize the irony in the tournament's name.
For the absentee tournament host, golfing life has been anything but easygoing this season.
Vaughn Taylor, the Evans resident who lent his name to Augusta's American Junior Golf Association event, is playing for his own future at the PGA Tour stop at the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
"I wish I could be there," Taylor said of the junior event that ends Thursday in his own back yard. "Unfortunately, I've got to keep playing right now."
Taking a week off to support his hometown event is a luxury the 35-year-old Taylor can't afford right now. This week could be the difference in retaining his playing status on the PGA Tour or struggling to regain a place in golf's highest professional ranks.
Taylor sits 103rd in the PGA Tour's seasonlong point standings with only a month to go before the top 125 get to participate in the first "playoff" series event building up to the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Even more distressing is that he is ranked 143rd on the money list with $350,352, more than $120,000 outside of the top 125 money leaders who will retain full PGA Tour status for 2012.
Because he is not qualified to play in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in August, Taylor is left with only three guaranteed starts to earn as much as he can before the lucrative limited-field playoff series begins. Otherwise, he will have to wait until October to fight for his status.
"I've had some years like this in the past," said Taylor of two recent seasons when he didn't secure his playing card until posting runner-up finishes in the fall. "It seems to be kind of the same recurring things. I just need to have four good rounds and get some confidence built up, and I think I can kind of get over the hump. It's frustrating and hard to put into words. There are some crazy things going on out there."
If you've paid close attention to Taylor's performance this season, you can understand his frustration. The former Hephzibah High and Augusta State star has been a frequent visitor to leaderboards all season long, with little to show for it. On several occasions he has been in contention on the weekends only to fade to distant finishes that have hindered his bottom line in a sport where only the bottom line matters.
"I don't feel like my game's that far off," he said. "I feel like I can have a good week. But at the same time I feel like I'm miles away. It's kind of hard to explain. It comes down to getting some momentum going and getting some confidence going at the same time."
Taylor's confusion in form is best illustrated by the opportunities (and consequently money) he has thrown away. He has missed seven cuts this season, six of them since failing to gain entrance to the Masters Tournament in April. But it's what he has done when making it to the weekend that has been more troubling.
Taylor's scoring average before the cut is 70.90, a respectable 70th on tour. But his average balloons to a crushing 72.25 on Sundays, ranking 158th.
Poor closing has cost him dearly. He fell 17 spots Sunday at the Travelers Championship, finishing tied for 33rd after being in the top five starting the weekend. He fell 18 spots Sunday at the Shell Houston Open (T30) after being among top 10 starting the weekend. He dropped 24 spots Sunday at the Byron Nelson Championship (T40) after being among the first-round leaders. And he plummeted 34 spots on Sunday at the Texas Open (T44) and Arnold Palmer Invitational (T54) after being among the midway leaders.
At New Orleans, he raced to a quick lead with five birdies on his opening nine only to stumble with a bogey and double bogey coming in to once again fade into the middle of the pack.
"Mentally I've been struggling," Taylor said. "And it seems like lately I've been struggling with scoring. My wedge play hasn't been the best, and that's usually one of the better parts of my game."
Playing a Greenbrier course this week that yielded a round of 59 last year in the final round, Taylor is re-emphasizing the work on his wedge game and hopes it will allow his natural putting instincts to shine. He'll need perhaps a top-five finish to earn a spot in the PGA Championship field and avoid getting shut out of the majors for just the second time since his 2004 rookie season.
If he doesn't find it this week, he hopes returning to play next week in the Reno-Tahoe Open where he won his only tour events in 2004 and '05 will spark a revival.
"When I go back to Reno there are a lot of good memories there," he said. "Sometimes when you get out there playing and get those good feelings and memories you can almost pick back up where you were a couple years ago. It would be great if that could happen."
It would be even greater if he could avoid the annual late- season scramble to retain his card and attend the junior event that bears his name.
"Being the first year, it would have been special to get out there and meet the kids," Taylor said. "I wanted to go there and see the guys play and be a part of the junior-am and stuff. Being on the road didn't allow me to be as involved as I wanted to be."
Perhaps the kids who one day aspire to be in his shoes accept Taylor's regrets and understand that being away from home this week is the last place he wanted to be.