Steven Ihm looked forward to spending the bulk of his summer north of the border.
Then, the coronavirus pandemic put the 28-year-old Peosta, Iowa, native’s professional golf career in scramble mode for the rest of 2020.
In mid-February, Ihm broke par in three of the four rounds at TPC San Antonio to tie for fourth place in Qualifying School for the PGA’s Mackenzie Tour, a depth circuit based in Canada. That gave him exempt status for a season scheduled to run from late May through mid-September.
But the PGA Tour decided to cancel all events on the three depth tours — Canada, Latin America and China — because of the pandemic. The PGA Tour and its top developmental circuit, the Korn-Ferry Tour, significantly altered their schedules and canceled events before returning in June.
“When you look at all the protocols that would have had to be in place, especially with quarantining after international travel, it would have been an awful lot of work for the tour and for us as players to have any events up there,” Ihm said Tuesday afternoon while taking a break from a practice session near his home in Plano, Texas. “It definitely put a damper on the summer. So, we’re kind of stuck state-side, but there’s still plenty of options in the United States for me. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of them.”
Ihm, who played on the Korn-Ferry Tour last season, hopes to return to that level this summer, although it will take a little extra work. He plans to compete in the Monday qualifying events that precede the weekend tournaments.
His first Monday qualifier of the season will take place next week at the same course where he played the Mackenzie Tour Qualifying School event in February.
“I already have a yardage book ready to go,” said Ihm, a former Dubuque Wahlert and University of Iowa standout who turned professional in 2014. “I’m excited to get going.”
If he doesn’t qualify for Korn-Ferry Tour events, Ihm will enter events on the All Pro Tour. For the most part, All Pro events take place within a short drive of the Korn-Ferry qualifying events.
The All Pro Tour, which has been in operation since 1994, conducts tournaments in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. Its alumni list includes PGA Tour winners Mark Hensby, J.L. Lewis, Tim Herron, Cameron Beckman, Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer.
“It’s a really good option,” Ihm said. “It’s really competitive. They’re four-day tournaments, so they feel like the events we’re used to, and they have some pretty decent purses. If you play well, you can make some money, which is nice.”
Ihm looked to rebound after a disappointing 2019 season. He battled a sore elbow, tried to overcompensate for it, and developed an aching back.
When he returned home to Texas in the offseason, he committed to a strength and conditioning program to prepare for this season.
“I learned last year how much of a grind the season can be,” Ihm said. “After 20-some straight weeks of travel, I felt like I was a little broken down. When you spend that much time on the road, it adds up. And, to be honest, I thought my wife (Caitlin) and I actually did a pretty good job handling the travel last year.
“I haven’t been in this good of shape since my sophomore year of college. I lost about 10 or 15 pounds I felt I could afford to lose without sacrificing strength, and I feel a lot healthier. It’s easier to be more consistent with your swing when you feel right.”
But he didn’t have as many opportunities to work on his game this spring. Most of the golf courses in and around the Dallas area either closed or severely limited access because of the pandemic.
Ihm played a handful of competitive rounds with fellow professionals before making his All Pro Tour debut a few weeks ago in Oklahoma.
“I didn’t have my ‘A’ game by any means, and I only missed the cut by two strokes,” Ihm said. “Just a couple of wayward shots were the difference. But I felt good over the ball, and I felt a little more consistent than I did last year.
“I feel pretty good about my game right now.”
Even if everything has been placed on pause. The golfers at all levels of the PGA will carry their 2020 status over to 2021, and players at developmental levels will not have an opportunity to graduate to a higher level. (On the other hand, they can’t be demoted, either).
“I do feel fortunate to have a spot for next year already,” Ihm said. “At the same time, I feel for the guys who are just turning pro out of college this year. There are still places to play, but it’s kind of slim pickings.”