Brandon Holtz, Illinois Open golf

Brandon Holtz of Bloomington hits a shot on the ninth tee Wednesday during the final round of the Illinois Open at The Glen Club in Glenview. Holtz had five birdies on the back nine and tied for second place, one shot behind winner Patrick Flavin.

Basketball was in Brandon Holtz’s rearview mirror. Having finished his career at Illinois State in 2009, the former Bloomington High School sharpshooter looked toward another passion.

He pondered taking a shot at professional golf’s mini tour circuit. As it tugged at him, his father, Jeff, offered some advice.

“He said, ‘Do it now. Otherwise, you’ll be 30 and wishing you did it,’ ” Holtz said.

Holtz is 30 now. He did it and is so glad he did, though fortune and fame never came.

His mini tour life lasted about three and a half years. Income was tied directly to results and money ran short. There also was the matter of what he owed to his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Grimm.

“I said, ‘It’s not fair to her or our future,’ ” Holtz said. “I decided it was time to give it up.”

That was about three years ago. Elizabeth Grimm is Elizabeth Holtz now. Her husband works for Riddell, a sports equipment manufacturer, out of their Bloomington home.

And golf?

It’s still in Holtz’s life, just not the focal point. That made this past week’s Illinois Open all the more special.

Holtz was rewarded for retaining his professional status, earning just under $14,000 after tying for second place at The Glen Club in Glenview. All those mini tour miles chasing prize money and here it was, just a couple of hours to the north.

“Definitely my highest payday,” he said.

Five birdies on the back nine of Wednesday’s final round left Holtz one stroke behind winner Patrick Flavin. Not bad for a guy who plays when he can at Crestwicke Country Club, but “not a whole lot.”

As he made his run, Holtz was buoyed by one of the many lessons learned on the mini tour.

“Anyone can win on any given day,” he said. “If you’re playing well that week you have an opportunity to win. I put myself in an opportunity to win this week. Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I’ll trade the trophy for cash any day.”

Here’s to that, though who among us gets the chance?

Turns out Holtz cashed the biggest check at the Illinois Open. Flavin is still an amateur, as were the two golfers who tied Holtz for second in a field of 256.

Holtz takes part in “little cash games here and there” with the group he plays with at Crestwicke. Never do they approach $14,000.

“It’s always fun to go out and compete for some actual money,” Holtz said. “The fact I can play and still make money, it’s kind of a no-brainer (to stay professional). Why not play a sport you love for money?”

Note the word “fun.” Holtz heard that a lot when he told people he was playing on the mini tour.

Most responded with “Wow, what a great time” or “Wow, that must be fun.”

“I’ll be the first to tell you it’s not fun,” Holtz said. “It’s only fun if you’re playing well and making money. You have to perform. It’s not like you sign a contract and get guaranteed money. It depends on what you do week in and week out.”

It can be a life of highway miles, one-star hotels, value meals and drive thru windows. It was for Holtz, who, while hardly alone in such struggles, was lonely just the same.

His initial plan was to give it two years, traveling mostly to tournaments within a 15-hour driving radius. For two years he made just enough to keep going. After the third year it was time to come home, build a normal life.

He still plays tournaments occasionally in the Midwest, the Illinois Open always among them.

“Bless her heart, my wife says, ‘Hey, keep playing,’ ” Holtz said.

Doing so nourishes the competitor in him. You don’t earn a Division I basketball scholarship without plenty of that.

Yet, basketball and golf make for an odd mix. Holtz is a different guy on the course than he was on the court. He has to be.

“In basketball, if you get mad you can hit somebody or run it off,” he said. “In golf, you have to keep it within and keep in control.

“The game of golf has matured me a lot. You learn a lot in golf. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn what you can and can’t control. It’s an interesting game … let’s put it that way.”

It can be fun, too, especially when you “play well at the right time.”

“That’s what it came down to,” Holtz said. “I played well, I played solid.”

And he’ll play again, on his terms mind you. He tried it the other way. There are no regrets. It was the only way to find out.

This is better.

Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports Editor for The Pantagraph.

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