LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Nick Jones hasn’t taken the traditional route to becoming a professional golfer, even though he has grown up around the game.
Jones jumped into the professional life following his prep career at Clearwater Calvary Christian, bypassing college.
But it was in the PGA program to become a club pro, not the PGA Tour.
Jones learned that he couldn’t play and practice like he wanted. Just last year, he said he was working 60 hours a week.
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So, it wasn’t until last August that the now-24-year-old Jones decided to pursue a golfing career on a full-time basis the way a famous family member of his has done in the past.
Jones’ uncle is former PGA Tour winner John Huston.
There is usually inherent pressure with anyone following a famous relative’s footsteps.
But in Jones’ case, that added weight isn’t because he shares blood with a veteran touring pro.
“It’s more of ‘I want to get where he’s at,’” said Jones, who plays or practices every day. “That’s the pressure I put on myself.”
Jones, who grew up playing at the famed Innisbrook Resort, said the course’s former director of golf, Lew Smither, put his swing alongside Huston’s when he was 16 years old.
The resemblance was uncanny.
“Nearly identical,” Jones said. “It’s just a natural motion. We both have the same natural move. His is a little slower than mine, but it’s a very, very similar move.”
Things were progressing well for Jones as he played the area’s lone mini-tour -- the West Florida Golf Tour -- until December.
That’s when Jones began struggling with his putter.
Jones said he was forward of center, with his weight on his left foot. He said he would get inconsistent rolls and leave the face open from pushing his hands.
He started making more putts in January after getting a tip about centering his weight from grandfather Jerry Huston.
The culmination from that work came April 1, when Jones carded an 8-under-par 64 to collect $1,000 and a victory at Bent Tree Country Club in Sarasota.
The win had a neat caveat to it -- the winner was given a one-year honorary membership to the private club.
“I’m looking forward to going down there and playing with him,” Jerry Huston said. “That’s a pretty nice deal for him. Not many people do that, especially for mini-tour players. You have to fight your way before you get there.”
Jones’ triumph catapulted him into the thick of the WFGT’s “Race to the Ritz” competition.
The event, slated for May, takes the top 12 on the tour’s Order of Merit for a match-play event at the Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club.
There’s a wrinkle to the two-day tournament: The winner receives a paid PGA Tour Q-School entry fee.
“That’s probably the coolest thing I’ve seen on the tour this year,” Jones said.
Jones is fifth in the Order of Merit, and while he seems like a lock to make the May tourney -- Jones is trying to rack up more cash for a spot in the top four.
The WFGT’s top four players on its money list earn first-round byes.
To do so, though, Jones has to overcome the biggest obstacle at golf’s elite level -- mental focus.
Legendary amateur Bobby Jones once said competitive golf is mainly played on a five-and-a-half inch course, the space between your ears.
“You’ve got to keep the same focus, same grind all 18 holes on every shot,” Jones said. “I found growing up that’s the hardest thing to do. To keep your mental focus all the way around and not let yourself to be bothered by other things or other people.”