Professional motorcycle racer Jason Pridmore is often asked about his greatest athletic achievement.
His response might surprise people. It isn’t one of his 21 American Motorcycle Association victories, although they were certainly milestones during his 15 years on the circuit. It isn’t even his 2003International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) World Endurance Championship.
“I always tell them [it is] qualifying for the U.S. Amateur [in 2006],” says the 43-year-old Pridmore. “To me, I realize what a big deal it was to get into that tournament. Not being able to play was pretty devastating.”
Pridmore’s job, however, prevented him from teeing it up at Hazeltine National Golf Club in suburban Minneapolis that August. A week before the championship, he broke his ankle while racing in Virginia. Pridmore, who had managed to get practice rounds in at Hazeltine and the companion qualifying venue, Chaska Town Course, a few days before flying to his race, still went to Minnesota with the small hope the injury would subside.
“It was really bad,” Pridmore said of the ankle. “The boot I was wearing was holding the swelling down. It gave me so much support that I didn’t feel the pain until I took the thing off.”
The fact he couldn’t compete far exceeded his excruciating pain.
Pridmore, the son of a professional motorcycle champion, did get some mild redemption a year later when he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon (he missed the match-play cut). He achieved the same feat in 2011, competing at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in suburban Houston (again missing the cut).
That 2006 Amateur heartbreak still stings Pridmore, who retired from the AMA circuit later that year. Nevertheless, golf has provided him with plenty of great experiences since he first took up the game at age 15, learning from good friend and fellow motorcycle rider Mike Kuntzman. He’s played rounds with professional stars like Luke Donald and the late Hall of Famer Seve Ballesteros.
Through racing, Pridmore teamed up with Michael Jordan Racing and befriended the NBA Hall of Famer. The two remain golf buddies.
But Pridmore, one of a record 9,860 entrants for this year’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, is now looking for the ultimate golf experience, one that would surpass his 2006 U.S. Amateur accomplishment and any rounds with Jordan: qualifying for the U.S. Open.
This will be Pridmore’s first attempt. And if his throbbing left ankle – a malady that has lingered from racing – can hold up, then maybe the Ventura, Calif., resident will survive both qualifying stages and earn his way into the 156-player field to tee it up with the game’s greatest golfers. His local qualifier is May 16 at La Purisima Golf Club in Lompoc, Calif.
“It’s never the pressure with him,” said Steve Holmes, Pridmore’s instructor the past four years. “He knows how to handle that. It’s always just the preparation with him.”
Holmes, who played a local qualifier on May 14 at Crystalaire C.C. in Llano, Calif., said Pridmore has a game suited for a U.S. Open setup. While past racing injuries have limited his length, being a straight hitter who plays often from the fairway is a strength in a competition that puts a premium on accuracy.
“When he gets it going … he’ll shoot 62 or 63,” said Holmes, who played the Nationwide Tour in 2002. “I’ve watched his swing over the years and the more his ankle hurts, the worse he swings. He’s probably got the highest threshold of pain I have ever seen. He’ll play with a broken clavicle and shoot even par. When he says [his ankle] is hurting, you and I would be in the hospital getting morphine.”
Most mortals don’t know what it’s like to travel in excess of 150 mph on a motorcycle. For Pridmore, such thrills were indoctrinated at birth. His father, Reginald, emigrated from England to compete in the sport – he was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2002 – and by the time Pridmore was two, he was donning motorcycle gear. He raced motocross as a youth before turning pro as a street racer at 17. He claimed the first of his 21 AMA victories as a rookie in 1992.
Poor high school grades and the love of racing led to his career choice.
“There was a time when I thought, ‘Do I want to pursue golf or racing?’ ” said Pridmore, who played on the Ventura High golf team and won the Ojai City Junior at 16. “The racing part was pretty easy for me obviously because of who my father was. That was the avenue I chose.”
As his achievements increased, the more in demand Pridmore became. It was during a 2004 race in Wisconsin where Pridmore first met Jordan. As they chatted in the paddock about Jordan’s fledgling racing team, golf quickly came up. Jordan and Pridmore hit it off immediately and two days later they were on the course together. Jordan grilled Pridmore about racing and Pridmore grilled Jordan about being a world-class champion.
“I got some amazing opportunities,” said Pridmore, who played with Ballesteros in Spain through his acquaintance with Jordan. “He’s been a gigantic influence on me. What an honor to know him.”
A year later, however, Pridmore got a major scare on the track. A serious injury during a race in Alabama left him facing emergency surgery to remove his spleen. At that point, Pridmore began thinking about life away from racing.
In golf, a double or triple bogey can lead to a bad score and plenty of frustration. In motorcycle racing, one bad mistake can be fatal.
Pridmore, of course, understood all the risks of his profession.
“I don’t want to say it’s natural, but to me it’s natural,” he said. “It’s because I understand the sport. Every time I get on a motorcycle, I rely on those things that I have worked on my entire life.
“That’s why golf is such a challenge. You can go out and shoot 60-something one day and 80-something the next day. And you’re the same guy. Those are the days you tried to avoid on a motorcycle…In my sport, you know [disaster] is out there and it can happen like when you commit a double or triple bogey. Those don’t hurt physically as much as a mistake in my sport.”
Golf, on the other hand, provides a competitive outlet with – no pun intended – fewer hazards. Pridmore toyed with the idea of becoming a touring professional, perhaps even joining the Champions Tour at 50.
One round with Donald in Chicago changed that outlook. Pridmore could see the PGA Tour star’s tremendous talent and realized his game would never reach such a level. He compared it to having a pro golfer compete in an AMA race.
“I will never play golf as a professional,” said Pridmore, who carries a +0.4 USGA Handicap Index, playing out of Spanish Hills Golf & Country Club in Camarillo, Calif. “I respect the game too much to know how good those guys are.”
While Pridmore retired from the AMA seven years ago, he still stays close to racing. He competes overseas in the Endurance Championship Series with the Penz13.com racing team based out of Germany. In mid-April, he flew to France for the Bol D’or, a 24-hour race that consists of four riders taking one-hour turns on the bike.
He also is a chief instructor for the STAR Motorcycle School, which works with novice and advanced riders on proper techniques and safety.
“My schools have been great,” he said. “I am doing a lot with the military now. I am helping those guys better understand [motorcycles] and keeping them safer on the streets. Helping people is good.”
So is playing well on the course. Pridmore still plans to give U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying a shot later this summer. He said a work conflict will prevent him from trying for the U.S. Amateur.
Nevertheless, he’ll be at La Purisima on May 16 for the start of what he hopes is a remarkable 2013 U.S. Open journey. Physically, it won’t be easy on his tender ankle and, should he make the sectional stage, Pridmore is unsure how he’ll handle 36 holes in one day. He recently took a three-month hiatus from the game to get re-energized. Because his game was a bit sporadic, he felt some time off would help him to get refocused.
Holmes noticed a difference when he returned.
“He’ll take three months off and then play three days straight, and by the end of those three days, he’ll be [shooting] in the 60s,” said Holmes. “He always has a chance.”
And that’s what the U.S. Open is all about.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.