When Nick Watney failed to attain his PGA Tour card in the late fall of 2003, he wasnít too upset. Earlier in the year, he had played a handful of tournaments with little success. Although the one bright spot was a tie for 10th at the Reno-Tahoe Open, Watney knew that a year on the Nationwide Tour was the best thing for his career.

"I was glad I played in a few events and it was an unbelievable experience, but I knew I wasnít ready," said Watney. "Some guys get their card right away and get beaten up when they come out here. In those few events I realized for the first time how good the players on the PGA Tour really are."

The year wasnít a total loss. That August, close friend Danny Paniccia had pulled some strings to get Watney into a Canadian Tour event. The rest of the field regretted it as Watney cruised to a five-stroke victory and the knowledge that he could win at the pro level. He had dreamed of professional victories since his days in Fresno.

Mike Watney introduced his nephew to golf. The elder Watney played the PGA Tour in the late 1970s and passed on his love of the game and instruction to Nick. Interestingly, Nick Watney played only one AJGA event growing up.

"They were all back east and living in California it was too hard to get to them, so I would just play tournaments around the area and practice every day," he said.

By his freshman year in high school, Nick knew he wanted to become a professional golfer.

"I was one of those kids that always wanted to be an athlete when he grew up," he remarked. "I played all of the sports growing up like baseball and basketball but for me golf became the most important one very quickly."

With his uncle Mike coaching at Fresno State, it was only natural that Nick would join the Bulldogs and Mikeís son Josh --three years older. Nick and Josh were extremely close growing up and both were ecstatic to be teammates.

"I donít have an older brother," explained Watney of the close relationship. "Josh has always looked out for me and he kind of filled the older brother role."

With three Watneys on the Bulldog team, did complaints of nepotism come up?

"At first, yeah, it did," he admits. "I think it was only natural for people to feel that way. I didnít have issues with anyone over it and I just played golf and left it at that."

Played exceptional golf is more accurate. As a sophomore, Watney won two individual titles, earned Western Athletic Conference player-of-the-year honors and finished outside the top-20 only twice. For an encore the next year, he captured three more titles while picking up nine top-five finishes.

After an outstanding senior season in which he won five times, held the No. 1 ranking for a stretch, and earned his third All-America honor, Nick hit the pro ranks and received an education of the distinction between college and pro golf.

"Itís a lot harder being a professional," he said. "The courses are harder, there is no team to back you up, youíre on the road for 4-5 weeks at a time, and you play for money. Youíre paying your own way and itís a business."

His game teetered near insolvency as he set out on the 2004 Nationwide Tour. He missed five of his first seven cuts and wasnít even within shouting distance of the leaders at the other two. Finally, in early June, it all began to click. He picked up consecutive top-ten finishes and began to climb the money list.

As the slanted rays of late September shone on the Nationwide Tour, Nick went on a tear. He finished tenth at Boise and followed up with a 4th at the Mark Christopher Charity Classic. Following an indifferent week, Nick entered the final round of the Miccosukee Championship with a two-stroke lead. Although D.J. Trahan pushed him back to second place, Watney didnít have much longer to wait. At the season-ending Tour Championship, Nick Watney not only captured his first Nationwide Tour title, he also earned an exemption onto the PGA Tour.

"Obviously I wanted my tour card but I wasnít thinking about it during the tournament. I wanted to win the event," said Watney.

As he journeyed along Interstate 10 from Houston where he missed his second consecutive cut to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the former Bulldog had a chance to reflect on his maiden PGA Tour campaign.

"Iíve done okay but it has also been a struggle," he opined. "Iím not pressing too much, though, and Iím still figuring things out but I also havenít lost any patience with my game or myself. I should be able to play about 25-30 tournaments this season and I want to be out here on the tour for a long time. I know it takes time to get used to everything so Iím not worried."

In mid-March, Watney shot rounds of 68-68-74-71 to finish tied for 17th at the Honda Classic and he looks forward to improving on that showing. He knows he has to pay his rookie dues as he competes against the best in the world on what will soon become familiar territory.

Up Close with Nick Watney

Date of Birth: April 25, 1981
Place of Birth: Sacramento, California
Turned Pro: 2003
Joined PGA Tour: 2005
Professional victories: 2003 Lewis Chitengwa Memorial (Canadian Tour) 2004 Nationwide Tour Championship
Favorite Food: Mexican
Favorite Drink: Chocolate milk
Favorite Movie: The Bourne Supremacy
Favorite TV show: SportsCenter
Favorite Music: Rap
Favorite Book: Angels & Demons Dan Brown
Favorite Memory: Nationwide Tour Championship victory
Favorite teams: San Francisco Giants, Sacramento Kings, San Francisco 49ers
Favorite golfer: Tiger Woods
Favorite golf course: Pebble Beach
Favorite holiday: Christmas with family
Perfect day: A late tee-time followed by the trophy presentation
Best advice youíve been given: "Stay true to yourself"