Friday, June 22, 2007

Former Sun Valley golfer reaches pro ranks

Michael Conger leaves amateur status for Gateway Tour

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy photo- Former Sun Valley golfer Michael Conger lines up a putt on a golf course at Scottsdale, Ariz., where he now lives and plays on the professional Gateway Tour.

Former Sun Valley golfer Michael Conger has given up his amateur status for the professional golf circuit, competing now on the Gateway Tour centered in Scottsdale, Ariz.

For Conger, reaching professional tour status is a dream come true. But it's only the beginning of a dream. Conger has aspirations to play on the PGA circuit, the ultimate venue for professional golfers.

Largely self taught, becoming a pro golfer has not been an easy road for Conger. The 37-year-old former Ketchum resident achieved pro status in a rather unconventional way.

"I'm not supposed to be here, but I am because I love the game so much," Conger said. "I've had to dig deep to find out where I am as a golfer."

Conger is the son of Phil and Joan Conger, who live in Ketchum.

Raised in the Wood River Valley, Conger played mostly as a boy on the links in Sun Valley and Elkhorn. But support for young golfers in the valley was less in those days than it is now, so Conger basically learned the game on his own.

He said his father was always there to help, but there wasn't much of an amateur program in the valley back then and golf wasn't a sanctioned sport at either The Community School or Wood River High School.

"I had no formal coaching at all," Conger said. "Except from my dad, who always watched my swing. He was a good athlete and would tell me what he thought."

As a boy, Conger learned by hanging around the golf courses. He worked as a caddie in both Elkhorn and Sun Valley, picking up pointers and absorbing the intricacies of the game by watching others.

He played a lot of golf as a youngster, but not having high school competition credentials was a disadvantage when it came to college level play. After graduating from WRHS in 1987, Conger attended the University of Arizona, where he tried out for the golf team.

"I practiced with the team, but was unable to make the team because they were number one in the country and I had no high school record and not enough experience to play at that level," he said.

He later made the golf team at Boise State University, only to find him self disqualified from competing because of eligibility requirements.

Conger said he was frustrated, but his love of the game pushed him to pursue his dream anyway.

He continued to play golf as often as possible, competing at an amateur level at tournaments mainly in the Boise and Twin Falls areas. Last year Conger won The Boise City Open with a score seven strokes under par.

At that point he decided he was good enough to join a pro circuit, which requires a handicap of zero, financial backing and total dedication to the game.

"I sold my house in Boise and put everything I own in a storage unit, turned professional and moved to Arizona," he said. "I am currently on the Gateway Tour, which is a stepping stone to the PGA."

Conger is now totally committed to the game.

"At this level, you can't have a job," he said. "This is my job."

Financial backing for Conger's pro career has come mainly from the Wood River Valley. Numerous supporters have made donations, while others have invested in Conger through Michael Conger Golf, Inc.

He said his biggest supporter has been former golf pro and Wood River Valley resident Georgia Hutchinson, who manages the funding. He's appreciative to everyone who has contributed or invested, but also specifically mentioned the support he's received from valley residents Tyson Hunt and Colby Smith.

Anyone who would like to invest in Conger's pro golf career can contact him at (208) 866-0109.

"I'd like to express my appreciation and gratitude to the community that has helped me get to this point," he said. "They have helped me to pursue a dream to play professionally."

Conger said he spent last weekend "glued" to a television set watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament in Oakmont, Pa., "where the best players in the world will be lucky to break par."

The tournament was won by Angel Cabrera, a relatively unknown pro from Argentina who defeated a field that included golfing greats Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk.

If determination counts for anything, we might just see Michael Conger someday competing with those guys.

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