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Vern Burns paving his own road to the tour with Earl Woods' help

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
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Vern Burns has competed on the Tight Lies Tour and is ready to play full time on the Nationwide Tour. (Courtesy IRM Productions)

At age 37, Vern Burns went through a breakup that left him depressed and disjointed. When a friend came over and convinced him to go golfing at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach, Calif., things just got worse.

"I must have shot a 135," Burns said of that day 11 years ago. "It was the most humiliating day of my life.

"I decided I never wanted to do that poorly again."

So Burns went out and did what any normal, slightly depressed father of two who had never practiced at golf might do: He hit 500 balls a day, every day, and played 36 holes each weekend. Within seven months, he had cut 60 strokes off his game - and found his focus in life.

"I think it was the total balance that I needed, physically, mentally and even off the course," Burns said. "What I found over the years is it didn't matter what your swing looks like, but it's like Bobby Jones said: It's the six inches between your ears."

The inner-city Los Angeles native began to dream of playing professionally, a goal that accelerated after he met another African-American man who'd set out to turn the golfing world on its ear -- Earl Woods.

One day at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena -- where Burns practiced so much that management eventually hired him as a part-time course marshal -- he was invited to fill out a foursome. He noticed people congregating around one of his new playing partners.

"Someone told me, 'That's Earl Woods, Tiger's dad,'" Burns recalled. "I had no idea who that was."

Hungry for more golf knowledge, Burns hung around the elder Woods, and the two made a deal.

"He told me he'd work with me if I paid for the balls and promised [that] if anyone else asked me for golf help, I'd help," Burns said. The student and the teacher became friends. "We would talk once a day. He was the reason for my $1,000 cell-phone bill."

Not long afterward, Tiger Woods' professional career took off, and Burns and Earl Woods lost touch. Still, Burns remains grateful for the help the elder Woods gave him, and the confidence he helped instill.

"Sometimes you look at someone and see their eyes and you know they know something. Some call it steely-eyed. Sometimes you're put in places because you belong there."

Now, at 48, the former telecommunications worker has dedicated himself fully to golf. He left the 9-to-5 world in December; working in front of a computer was impossible when golf was the only thing on his mind.

Currently coached by PGA Professional Herb Triplett, Burns said he understands that making a run at the Champions Tour would be tough; the former Seniors Tour is on the lookout more for former PGA champions than for 50-year-old newcomers. But then, he is aiming at bigger prey.

Burns has some experience on the Tight Lies Tour and other mini-tours, and he is working toward playing full time on the Nationwide Tour. From there he believes the sky is the limit.

"My goal is to stick a tee in the ground between the ropes of the PGA Tour," said Burns, who now lives near Orlando and also harbors hopes of becoming a motivational speaker. "That's when the history I'll make is on the map. That's where I'm going."

Golf came into his life when he most needed it, Burns said. He knows it's a lifetime commitment.

"I married it," he said with a laugh. "And I know golf will be there for me. Because that feeling of abandonment, I can't take that again."

Fast Fact

In 2001, Burns was the Charlie Pelham Memorial Champion, the Marriott Partners Tournament Champion, and the Disney MBE Golf Classic Champion. In 2005, he won the Florida A&M/Bethune-Cookman Classic.

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William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • hello

    Chris Lumpkin wrote on: Jan 10, 2011

    just here with Rhonda talking about our lesson at the Summerly Golf Course in lake Elsinore who'se look a like neices were too young. :)
    Happy new Year
    may the peace of Christ be with you
    Chris and Rhonda

    Reply

  • hello

    Chris Lumpkin wrote on: Jan 10, 2011

    just here with Rhonda talking about our lesson at the Summerly Golf Course in lake Elsinore who'se look a like neices were too young. :)
    Happy new Year
    may the peace of Christ be with you
    Chris and Rhonda

    Reply

  • hello

    Chris Lumpkin wrote on: Jan 10, 2011

    just here with Rhonda talking about our lesson at the Summerly Golf Course in lake Elsinore who'se look a like neices were too young. :)
    Happy new Year
    may the peace of Christ be with you
    Chris and Rhonda

    Reply

  • hello

    Chris Lumpkin wrote on: Jan 10, 2011

    just here with Rhonda talking about our lesson at the Summerly Golf Course in lake Elsinore who'se look a like neices were too young. :)
    Happy new Year
    may the peace of Christ be with you
    Chris and Rhonda

    Reply

  • Vern Burns

    David DeWilde wrote on: Oct 17, 2010

    I was paired to play with Vern Burns today at Lindsay Golf Course in Ft. Knox. What a great guy. He was very friendly and talkative. He gave me a free chipping lesson, just to help me get better. He's the pro at Pine Valley Golf Course in E'Town. I'm thinking about contacting him for a few formal lessons.
    Vern,
    Thanks for a great day on the golf course.
    Dave

    Reply

  • Vern Burns

    Shana Milburn wrote on: Sep 6, 2010

    I am a new golfer and had the opportunity of meeting Vern Burns the other day, and will start lessons next week.

    Reply

  • Vern Burns

    Gail wrote on: Aug 12, 2010

    Vern is alive and well. He is currently living outside of Louisville, KY. Vern is actively pursuing his dream so keep an eye out for him as he will be going on tour very soon. This man of mine is a force to be reckoned with.

    Reply

  • Looking for Vern Burns

    JamesLu wrote on: Jun 16, 2010

    Looking for Vern Burns..If you can reach him ask him to send me an email
    Links at Summerly CA Verns friend Taiwan James

    Reply

      • RE: Looking for Vern Burns

        Vern Burns wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

        James,
        How are you? Send an e-mail to me when you can..
        Best,
        Vern

        Reply

      • RE: Looking for Vern Burns

        dan wrote on: Oct 13, 2010

        vern burns is giving lessons at pine valley golf course in elizabethtown ky

        Reply

  • A Friend

    andre wrote on: Jan 18, 2010

    Vern and I worked together in the telecom industry in Orange County CA for about three years. We were engineers there, but we also were frineds and got together oftne for tennis and basketball. Vern has always been a very good all round athlete with a great competitive sprit. It has been a few years since I spoke with him, but he was working on his game at that time. Good Luck My Friend.

    Reply

  • At 61 I am still under par

    Verdell H. Campbell wrote on: Mar 18, 2009

    Still in Saudi, Vern. Turn 61 this week. At 61 I am still under par. Played last month in Ethiopia. During great see you in June 2009.
    Doc Campbell

    Reply

      • RE: At 61 I am still under par

        Vern Burns wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

        Campbell, I've been looking for you!!! I've been to Kuwait, Dubai, Afghanistan and Abu Dahbi looking for you!!!
        E-mail me!! I'm in Afghanistan...

        Reply

          • RE: RE: At 61 I am still under par

            Vern Burns wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

            Campbell, the email is LHNB999@YAHOO.COM

            Reply

  • Where are they now?

    ME wrote on: Jul 14, 2008

    I haven't heard much about Vern Burns lately. It would be nice if someone did an article on him like a "Where are they now piece?"

    Reply

      • RE: Where are they now?

        Tom Ferruggia wrote on: Aug 8, 2009

        I met vern while playing at a local course in Sun City, Ca. in June 2009. We played together and he noticed that I needed to learn to chip better. He gave me a free lesson and we then shared a beer together at a local pub. He was leaving for Australia on july 1 and I never saw him again. He was going to play the tour over there. I am very greatful for the time I spent with him. There was something about that guy that is hard to describe but he is a great gentleman and he taught me something about chipping. If you hear anything about him from down under please let me know. Although I only spent a few hours with him on the course and at the pub I feel indebted to him and would like to thank him for spending his time to impart some of his knowledge about this great game of golf with me.
        Sincerely,
        Tom Ferruggia

        Reply

      • RE: Where are they now?

        TAG wrote on: Jan 7, 2009

        I spoke to Vern last weekend. After suffering from a knee injury, he has taken time off from touring to nurse his injury. Although golf is his passion and he WILL get back to it, in the mean time he has to put food on the table! Vern is now living in California in the Central Vally. He's working for a major telecommunications company. He WILL return......you can hear it in his voice! :)

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Where are they now?

            Beverly Morris wrote on: Aug 17, 2009

            Looking for Vern Burns..If you can reach him ask him to send me an email or look me up on face book.
            Beverly in Memphis Tennessee by way of Pasadena, California..Steve P. friend.

            Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: Where are they now?

                Vern Burns wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

                Beverly,
                the email is LHNB999@yahoo.com
                Where's Steve?

                Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: Where are they now?

                VERN bURNS wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

                Miss Beverly how in the world are you!!!
                Send me an e-mail a.s.a.p.. How are the girls??
                Best,
                Vern

                Reply

      • RE: Where are they now?

        DANIEL wrote on: Sep 8, 2008

        i know where vern burns is he works out at tooele army depot in utah as a contractor

        Reply

  • Winning

    Lee Malone wrote on: May 20, 2008

    Vern it was nice talking to you I check out you website and will let my friends know about it. Just talking to you I could tell were your mine is at to me you think like a Buddha. with thinking like you do you will win.
    Our Mentor President Ikeda said: Buddhism concerns itself with winning. when we battle a powerful enemy, either we triumph or we will be defeated there is no middle ground.
    Battling against life's negative function is an indivisble part of Buddhism. It is by being victorious in this struggle that we become Buddhas. We have to win moreover, Buddhism ensures that we can definitely do so. I hope to see you tee it up Lee Malone

    Reply

      • RE: Winning

        Vern Burns wrote on: Aug 24, 2011

        Lee,
        What a wonderful message. Thank you.. Please feel free to email me when you have time. LHNB999@yahoo.com
        Best,
        Vern

        Reply

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