Simply put, former Georgia State men’s golf J.J. Grey was one of the most talented players to ever come through the program. He won the first two tournaments he ever played in, earned nearly every athletic and academic accolade possible while being a 4.0 student, yet the challenge of following his dream to the professional ranks of golf had been one that eluded him – until recently. More on that in a minute.
Grey graduated from Georgia State in 2016. He played in a few amateur events that summer before taking his first attempt at the Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour Q-School. After making it through pre-qualifying, he failed to advance through the first stage. He qualified for the Mackenzie-Canadian PGA Tour in 2017, but with just conditional status, failed to make it into an event.
Things didn’t get too much better on the golf course after that. Playing in local events started to become too expensive and even when he did qualify once again for the Mackenzie-Canadian PGA Tour in 2018, he was always on the alternate list and by the time he would find out he was in an event, the costs to get to Canada in a 24-hour period were too steep.
“In the summer of 2018 my wife, also a Georgia State grad, and I had our first child, Theo,” Grey said. “I took almost a year off from golf to help as my wife finished up law school and studied for the bar exam, which I am proud to say she passed.”
After getting back to golf in 2019, he entered Korn Ferry Q-School once again but unfortunately didn’t get through the first stage. The hours and hours of practice, playing and working out, and of course the expense of trying to be a professional golfer started to weigh heavily on Grey.
He entered 2020 wanting to give it at least one more try, but that is when tragedy struck just over a month ago.
“A really close friend of mine, former Georgia State golfer Sam Asbury, passed away unexpectedly,” Grey explained. “This took a heavy toll on me and an awful lot of people, and of course his family, whom I am constantly thinking of and praying for. Sam had so many good friends and was the funniest dude I knew. As teammates we shared so many good times, and even as a freshman (me a senior), he showed me what hard work looked like.”
That leads us to one of the craziest weeks the sports world has ever seen.
Grey started his week on Monday in Dothan, Ala., along with 123 other golfers, looking to earn one of 14 spots on the Mackenzie-Canadian PGA Tour. Finish in the top 14 and he was guaranteed a spot in the first six of the 15-event season. If he didn’t, he would be right back to square one.
The native of Kent, England, got off to a solid start – five birdies, four bogeys and a Round 1, 71. Right in the hunt of his end goal with 54 holes to play. An even par 72 in Round 2 didn’t hurt his chances either. Round 3 got off to a bumpy start with a pair of bogeys in the first six holes, but four birdies over the final 12 gave him a 2-under 70 and left him in prime position when MOST of the sports world came to a stop.
“Most of us were very surprised that we were playing, after the PGA Tour announced the suspension of every event on each of the PGA Tour sanctioned tours,” Grey said. “I thought for sure the final round would get cancelled due to the coronavirus. I spoke with a tournament official after my round on Thursday and they said that the matter had been discussed at great length and the fact that there were no spectators, nor a confirmed case in Alabama at the time, that it was safe to play.”
That just left just one final round between him and his dream. Three straight birdies was the perfect start, but a pair of bogeys and a double bogey on his eighth hole allowed some doubt to start creeping back into Grey’s head.
This time would be different. After making the turn, three birdies over a five-hole stretch put Grey within reach of his ultimate goal. After the final putt dropped, he knew.
“I was ecstatic! A lot of hard work had gone into finally getting a result I wanted and full status on a tour. It makes scheduling out my year so much easier and no less it came on my birthday. It was a great gift to myself.
“Since that sad day of Sam’s passing, so much in my life has changed and I know I got through Q-School this time around with his help from above. He was by my side on the golf course and I know he will play a part in all my future success, and it will all be dedicated to him.”
Although the sports world has come to a halt, the first event on tour, the Canadian Life Open, isn’t scheduled to start until May 28. That gives Grey plenty of time to get his golf game polished and reflect upon a blessing and support from above.