LINKS LETTER, 2014 ANNUAL EDITION

PEACE > PERFORMANCE

By Jeff Hopper

As the summer sun hit the crystal blue of California’s Lake Tahoe, the teenage brothers went at it on the water. One held the handlebars of the SeaDoo jet ski; the other held on for dear life.

“Sounds like a good way to get hurt,” Cameron Tringale says now, laughing at the way he and his brother Jon made a competition of everything.

On this memorable afternoon, the brothers took turns. One would drive as wickedly as he could, trying to spill his rider into the white wake behind them. This time the rider had to keep his eyes closed, next time he would have to face backwards. What it really sounds like is a good way for boys to have fun!

You might say it was also a training ground for one of the PGA Tour’s hippest young stars. Because if there’s one thing Cameron Tringale loves about the Tour it’s competition. “You just can’t replicate the sensation of being in the hunt in a tournament,” he says. “I grew up in a very competitive environment, so I feel like I thrive with the chance, with the opportunity, with the pressure. It’s pretty cool to see what you can do.”

A lot of things are pretty cool for the 26-year-old Tringale (say it “trin-golly”). He grew up in south Orange County, California, about halfway between Disneyland and SeaWorld. The beach was always nearby, so he tried surfing then settled on bodyboarding as one of his favorite ways to relax. He and Jon competed at soccer, hockey, basketball. But when SoCal’s own Tiger Woods made golf once and for all a real sport played by real athletes, the game caught Tringale’s attention.

“When I grew up golf was an old man’s sport—grandpas and dads. It wasn’t the thing that young kids did. But I admired Tiger’s dominance and his work ethic. I really liked his swing.”

So Tringale’s sights became set on something besides the common SoCal aspiration of acting, which is where his dreams once lay. He looked instead to the PGA Tour.

Recruited to one of the country’s top collegiate programs at Georgia Tech, Tringale made big strides there, three times earning All-America honors, to match the accolades of prior Yellowjacket alums Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink, and David Duval.

He also gained another role model in Cink. “He would practice with the team once in a while,” Tringale remembers. “I got to play with him maybe my freshman or sophomore year, and I remember he putted better than anyone I had ever seen. I mean every putt he hit looked like it was going to go in when it was two feet short of the hole. And he just had the most consistent speed on the greens. It looked so easy.

“So I started to say, ‘This Stewart Cink guy is pretty solid.’ He’s had a great career. And getting to know him more on a personal level, I realized that he’s a really solid dude too. So he’s become someone that I root for and look up to.”

That’s right, though ever competitive, Tringale is a fan as well as a player. But something has to give when he’s face-to-face with a friend and they’re competing for the same prize. “I think I default to my competitive nature,” he admits. “It wouldn’t matter who the other person is. I just get engrossed in what I’m trying to do. Ultimately, you can’t really control what the other person does. I guess you’re hoping that you both play well, but that you play one shot better.”

One shot. When the scores go as low as they do on the PGA Tour, one shot can make huge difference—for the cut, for more dollars or more points, even for a trophy. Entering 2014, Tringale was still waiting for one of those, as well as the truly big checks and exemptions that come with it.

In 2009, in the fall after his senior season at Georgia Tech, Tringale cruised through the Tour Qualifying School, in the days when you could still go from relative unknown to Tour card holder in one glorious hot streak (beginning in 2013, newbies had to gain access to the developmental Web.com Tour first, then earn their card with consistent earnings on that circuit). As an amateur who helped secure the U.S. victory in the 2009 Walker Cup matches, Tringale was not altogether unknown, but his feat was still a big one, and he had every chance to prove his game on the golf world’s most public stage. He didn’t. In the 2011 season, Tringale made just five of 22 cuts and found himself starting over at Q-School.

He got through again, and this time he stayed. He has finished within the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings in each of the past three seasons. He surged to 34th in the all-around statistical ranking in 2013, a collective statistic that measures driving distance and accuracy, greens in regulation, sand saves, putting, birdies, and scoring. Tringale describes his own strength as his driving, saying he is always confident he can put the ball in position off the tee. For 2014, he will concentrate on improving his wedge play because, he notes, “that’s always the difference maker between good weeks and average weeks—how well am I getting the ball down from inside 120 yards and am I making those easy up-and-downs and keeping momentum in a round?”

But even with all the focus required of a top-flight athlete, including the demands of gym workouts and careful attention to nutrition, Tringale is insistently averse to one thing: performance-based living.

“Golf is so public,” he says. “OK, I shot 74 today. Everyone knows you shot 74. It’s easy to let your identity fall into how you play. I lived that way for a long time and it’s hard. There’s no joy in that. The fear of failure in golf was paralyzing, knowing if I don’t shoot the score, I’m not going to cut it.”

Tringale says he lived his life the same way, especially when it came to matters of faith. He grew up going to church, mostly because it was important to his father, whom he respected and wanted to please. But by the time he reached his junior year of college, he was starting to recognize that there was no depth to his religion.

“I kind of lived off a performance-based side of doing what I should do and avoiding all the big sins. I thought that’s all there was. I thought that’s what being a Christian was all about—keeping the behavior intact and, ‘Oh man, I messed up. I guess I’ll just try harder.’

“Through experiences and having success in golf and in other areas of life and doing the so-called church thing, I didn’t know the peace that I kind of saw some of my friends experiencing, and the guys I looked up to. There was something different that was unbelievably attractive in their lives. The Lord was patient with me. It took some time for the Lord to show me, ‘I don’t want your behavior and your deeds and your works. I want you to come to me.’”

While he is hesitant to pin down a day on which he said “this is it,” Tringale says that “between my senior year and that next year out of school was when the Lord took hold of my heart.” He gives much credit here to the teaching of Andy Stanley at Buckhead Church in Atlanta, where a Georgia Tech teammate had invited him to attend. “Listening and hearing him over and over, my heart was softened and broken down over time and I realized my need for a Savior.”

In his years on Tour, Tringale has become acquainted with several of the leaders of College Golf Fellowship, including Brad Payne and Stephen Bunn, who teach many of the weekly Bible studies at Tour sites. CGF builds relationships with male college golfers on campus and during retreats hosted by Tour players, including Jonathan Byrd, Ben Crane, Davis Love III, Scott Stallings, and for the first time early this year, Tringale. The collegians get a chance to spend several days with the players and ask questions about what it means to follow Christ.

Tringale understands the value of his role in such a setting. “I share my story, which I feel like is fairly common, feeling like your identity can be wrapped up in golf and the result and how well you play. But there’s so much more to you than your golf score. Ultimately being reconciled to God through Jesus’ death on the cross—that’s what should be motivating you, that’s your foundation.

“It’s a tough battle. It’s easy to get stuck in the performance, result-oriented mindset. But as much as you can, keep reminding yourself of the Gospel, surround yourself with guys who are going to encourage you in that way. The importance of who you run with I don’t think can be understated—who you surround yourself with, who’s going to spur you on and encourage you and keep pushing you back to the Word.”

Tringale is easy to listen to, like the gentler waves rolling in on the Florida beaches he now frequents near his home in Jupiter when he needs an escape. But what he says carries weight for young players and old. All of us can tend toward racking up points in life rather than seeing the life that comes in walking with Christ. It’s the latter, Tringale asserts, that makes for peace with God. “The only way we can be in relationship with God is through Christ’s work on the cross. Because of Christ we can have a relationship with God. That’s huge.”

COPYRIGHT 2014 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Cameron Tringale

    Best PGA Tour finishes: T2nd-2014 The Barclays, 2nd-2015 Zurich Classic