No announcement yet.

Man Makes $50,000 A Year At A Bar Game

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Man Makes $50,000 A Year At A Bar Game

    It's Rough to Make a Living As a Pro Golfer on the Bar Circuit - Yahoo! Finance

    That would be so cool to make $50,000 playing video games. LOL!

    ST. CHARLES, Ill.—At a recent tournament, Graig Kinzler hit a golf ball into a mountain on the 15th hole of a course called Tundra Peak. With $2,000 at stake, he crossed his arms and looked as if he wanted to punch somebody.

    "Was I worried? Yeah, I was worried," Mr. Kinzler said between games—held not at a country club, but on the dark second floor of a bar. "How could I not be?"

    Mr. Kinzler goes to a bar to play golf every day. That's his job. He is one of about two dozen men around the country, mostly in their 30s and 40s, who make their living playing Golden Tee, the most popular cash videogame in the U.S. In a typical month, he plays about 600 games, competing against 49 other players at a time for a top prize of $10. He says he earned more than $50,000 last year.

    Mr. Kinzler is a two-time world champion. But like a lot of other Americans, he isn't feeling as secure as he used to. His earnings are down, the competition is stiffer and Mr. Kinzler—a bearded 33-year-old with a wife and nine-month-old son at home—fears losing his edge.

    "I worry I'm getting the yips," he said recently, referring to the anxiety that sometimes ruins golfers' games.

    On a typical workday, Mr. Kinzler takes care of his son, Brady, until midafternoon, when a nanny comes to relieve him. His wife, Cortney, works as a sales rep for a vending-machine company.

    Mr. Kinzler then rides his bike about a mile to Six Degrees, a bar in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. He greets the bartender and heads to the back corner, where he swipes a card that keeps track of his earnings. For the next five hours, he stands in front of a console with seven buttons, a white track ball the size of a baseball and a giant, high-definition screen. He will play 30 games and suck down a couple of high-octane energy drinks. Several years ago, Mr. Kinzler, who studied professional golf management in college and was a qualified teaching pro, let his certification lapse so he could devote his time to Golden Tee.

    It takes him about eight minutes to play 18 holes. His hands skip over the control buttons. Then, with a pause and a snap of the wrist, he spins the trackball at the center of the console and his avatar smacks a ball into play.

    It is his ability to consistently spin the track ball at just the right speed and angle to control his avatar's swing and the golf ball's flight that sets him apart from the tens of thousands of other Golden Tee competitors. New players have a hard time even laying the ball on the green let alone dropping it with back spin a few feet from the cup.

    Golden Tee was developed in 1989 by Incredible Technologies in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. In 1995, the company networked the games through phone lines to enable players in different locations to compete. In 2000, it introduced cash prizes, causing the number of consoles to jump to 30,000, from 4,000, in two years, according to Scott Morrison, company spokesman.

    Because Golden Tee is a skill-based game, it gets around gambling restrictions in all but four states.

    There are now about 60,000 Golden Tee games in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, frequented by players with screen names like "Suq It," "Six Foot Stank" and "Git Sum." The highest concentration of games is in the Midwest.

    When a player wants to compete in a tournament, he—more than 90% of the players are men—pays $4 for the game and $1 into a betting pool. Online tournaments are capped at 50 players. The winner takes home $10, second place earns $8, third place $6 and so on. To make a living, Mr. Kinzler must win most of the tournaments he competes in and finish in the top four in almost all of them. Every two weeks he gets a check for about $1,500.

    A diver and golfer in high school, Mr. Kinzler first played Golden Tee in 1999 as a student at New Mexico State University. About a year after he started competing, he was good enough to earn a few bucks. His biggest paydays have come at the half dozen regional tournaments held around the country every year that, in their heyday, had cash prizes as high as $15,000. The tournaments culminate in the crowning of a world champion.

    In 2002, Mr. Kinzler (screen name Kinz) won the first of two world titles and started making real money.

    This year, Mr. Kinzler, who has been taking some time off, entered the competition in St. Charles, about 40 miles west of Chicago, less prepared than he had been in years. At the tournament, on the second floor of the House Pub, drapes covered the windows and the long narrow room was lighted by the bluish glow of a dozen Golden Tee machines.

    Sixty men, mostly between 25 and 50, wearing cargo shorts and T-shirts, huddled around the machines cradling bottles of beer. Blues rock artist George Thorogood blasted from the stereo.

    Mr. Kinzler qualified fourth on Saturday, while keeping an eye on Mark Stenmark, a towering former gas and oil worker from Houston and the hottest player on the tour.

    "He has ice in his veins," Mr. Kinzler said.

    On Sunday, Mr. Kinzler vanquished his first two opponents, shooting his customary 27 under par for 18 holes. Then in his next match, there was his mistake on the 15th hole on Tundra Peak. By the final hole, he had fallen behind by four and was steeling himself for a loss. But his opponent, Dan Weis, 47, who said he earned $20,000 playing Golden Tee last year, racked up a quadruple bogey on the 18th hole. Mr. Kinzler birdied the finishing hole for the win.

    "I don't want to talk right now," Mr. Weis said after the game.

    Mr. Kinzler's next opponent was Mr. Stenmark. A crowd formed behind them. "This is epic. This is beast versus beast," said Justin Clark a 32-year-old competitor from Kansas City.

    Both men were 13 under par after eight holes. Then Mr. Kinzler hit a ball into the water on the ninth hole and made bogey. Mr. Stenmark eagled the hole, a three-shot swing. Afterward, Mr. Stenmark didn't make eye contact with anyone in the room. "He's in the zone," Mr. Clark whispered.

    Mr. Stenmark played a perfect back nine. Mr. Kinzler was forced to take some high-risk shots and stumbled. He was 24 under for the round and lost by four. "A few years ago, that round would have been good enough to win," Mr. Kinzler said. As it is he took home just $500.