It’s not as if you must know how to navigate the hairpin turn on the Mohawk Trail or be able to explain Ephs and purple cows to earn my approval.
But should you check all those boxes and exhibit a burning desire to eat, breathe, live, and work golf, as Dylan Dethier does, then count me officially sold. His story commands respect not because it is so intriguing – assuming you agree that an 18-year-old driving his Subaru more than 30,000 miles to play golf in all 48 contiguous states, then writing a book on the journey, qualifies as unique.
It’s compelling because this young man from Williamstown, Mass., took such a circuitous route and colorful exit ramps before eventually carving out a nice niche in the world of golf-writing (Senior Writer with GOLF Magazine / GOLF.com) in the most admirable of fashions.
He earned it.
Paint my interest in Dethier’s story with a provincial brush. I spent four great collegiate years in the Berkshires and bypassed a healthy number of state college lecture-hall classes in lieu of study sessions at Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown, which is the definition of bucolic. Just below the Vermont border, just east of the New York line, it’s still Massachusetts and so I relate to what was Dethier’s Plan A.
“I dreamed of playing shortstop for the Red Sox,” he said.
Now the North Adams Transcript once proclaimed that “sophomore Dylan Dethier had a Greg Maddux-type outing” in Mt. Greylock’s 8-2 win over Mt. Everett Regional in 2007, but two years later his baseball dream morphed into something else. “Maybe I’d like to be like Rick Reilly at Sports Illustrated or Bill Simmons, a star of the early internet,” said Dethier.
He had a bright educational route planned to run through Williams College, but Dethier edited the script slightly because “I needed to get a big travel adventure.”
From September of ’09 to June of ’10, he showed great spirit and did what many of us wish we had done – Dethier pushed aside the books, picked up the clubs, and saw this awe-inspiring nation in a way to be envied.
“He played with autoworkers and livestock auctioneers, and his 32,000-mile trek became a tale about everything you can learn about your country, 18 holes at a time,” wrote the New York Times’ Bill Pennington, who saw charm in Dethier’s blogs.
Dethier’s book about his adventure, “18 in America,” was published before he graduated in 2014 from Williams, where he played on the golf team (second team NESCAC, thank you very much) and chronicled the Eph skiers for the college paper. (Should you not know about the “Ephs,” consider it a homework assignment; Google away.)
Already an author and bona fide explorer, Dethier the college graduate measured his options and knew one of them matched what his college golf teammate, Cody Semmelrock, was thinking. “We had played enough golf together and had dreamed enough together, so we figured, ‘What if we tried?’ ”
Pro golf, that is. But it was pro golf in the rawest, and barest, and most soul-searching of ways – state opens throughout New England, weekly qualifying tests, then grueling “Q Schools” for a piece of either the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica or Mackenzie Tour in Canada.
In his cross-country journey before college, Dethier wrote in an early blog that he “wanted to discover good golf where it didn’t belong and golf, in any form, where nothing belonged."
His brief fling with pro golf earned this highlight for Dylan Dethier -- brother Evan caddied for him when he made the cut in the Cape Breton Classic in 2015. (Photo courtesy Dylan Dethier)
In his pro golf experience, from the summer of ’14 in New England to the summer of ’15 as a Mackenzie Tour member who missed seven straight cuts then got into contention through 36 holes at the Cape Breton Classic before falling to T-40 (770 Canadian dollars) in his pro finale, Dethier experienced a hard truth.
“It’s hard to climb any single rung,” he said. “Then the next rung is just as hard or harder.”
Dethier felt similar challenges when he put pro golf behind him and pursued golf-writing opportunities. “Maybe it was naivete or arrogance, but I thought (the media world) would be easier,” he said. “There were some humbling times out there.”
Unlike several generations of aspiring sportswriters who were blessed with a flood of small newspapers and a parade of cities with more than one daily, Dethier and his peers navigate a landscape with way fewer newspapers and magazines and more demands for a proficiency with different “platforms.”
Good or bad. Better or worse. Those arguments bore me. Instead, this space is intended to extend praise to a young man who maneuvered his way in a tough business thanks to a unique golf perspective and a passion to tell stories, be it with the written word or the podcast, the video, or social media.
His “retirement letter” from professional golf was published by GOLF.com in ’17, the same year when his freelance story for the New York Times – “The Little Golf Course That Could’’ – helped achieve must-play status for a modest Tennessee nine-holer, Sweetens Cove.
There were times when he took digital-writing jobs just to pay the rent. “But I tried desperately not to settle for a job I didn’t want,” said Dethier.
He also remained unwavering in his convictions. Yes, the print world isn’t what it used to be and the digital universe has many platforms, “but people still desire to sink their teeth into (stories); they still want to learn and be entertained.”
When a job with GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com was made official “the relief was unbelievable,” said Dethier, who has packed a lot of intrigue and adventure into his young life.
“Playing professional golf had been mostly futile,” laughed Dethier. “But (writing about it) is a joyous thing.”
It is a sentiment I wholeheartedly support.