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January 05, 1998|LARRY STEWART

What: "The Road: Life on the Nike


Where: The Golf Channel.

When: Tonight at 7.

When you think about the life of a professional golfer you think about big paydays, big endorsement deals, fame and adulation, first-class air travel and luxury hotel suites. All for playing the game of golf. That's the PGA Tour.

Then there is the eight-year-old Nike Tour, a place for prospects and dreamers to sharpen their skills while counting strokes and pennies. Their goal is to qualify for the PGA Tour. Only the top 15 move up.

The Golf Channel spent the entire 29-week season last year chronicling the successes and failures of three Nike Tour players and the result is an excellent one-hour special that offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at how difficult it is to make it as a pro golfer.

Don't expect to see many golf shots in this show. It's more about their daily lives and struggles, and that is what makes it worth watching.

The three players are Chris DiMarco, a former University of Florida All-American who has played in the PGA Tour; Michael Clark, a Georgia Tech graduate who had one victory on the 1996 Nike Tour; and Darron Stiles, a 23-year-old Nike Tour rookie who uses his 63-year-old father Frank as his caddie. Father and son travel pulling a house trailer from stop to stop.

The players provide a good cross-section. DiMarco earned $135,513 to finish third on the money list. Clark, with $70,005, finished 30th, and Stiles was 105th.

At a tournament in Lakeland, Fla., Clark and his wife Ryndee are quoted a hotel room rate. "Is that $98 a week?" Clark asks. "We're poor out here. I don't pay $98 a night."

DiMarco and his wife Amy have 15 "Barney" tapes to keep their infant son, Cristian, entertained while traveling in their van. Despite her husband's success, Amy says, "People think this lifestyle is so glamorous, but it's really not. It's grueling, and it's tough to make expenses."

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