Luke Guthrie finally found a golf/school combo he couldn't conquer.
Guthrie, who has experienced a dream first 11 months as a pro, will compete in The Players Championship on Thursday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
And because of that tournament - the so-called fifth major - he will miss this weekend's graduation at Illinois. He completed the final 13 credits for his business management degree last fall while traveling the country to earn his PGA Tour card.
Guthrie has had this week circled on his calendar for four-plus years because of his desire to earn a degree, but the thrill of donning the cap and gown can't match the thrill of confronting the island green on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass.
"This is probably the biggest tournament I've ever played in," Guthrie said.
The way his career has progressed, that designation won't last long.
Guthrie, 23, is one of nine players to go straight from college to the PGA Tour without playing in the six-round qualifying tournament. Two of his predecessors: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Guthrie won $284,672 in his first three PGA Tour events last season and used a second-place finish as an alternate in a Web.com Tour event to gain status on that tour for the rest of the 2012 season. He collected his first pro win in Boise in September to clinch his PGA Tour card, won again the next week and finished second on the money list - a stunning half-season.
He carried that momentum into his rookie season on the PGA Tour, where he has a third-place finish (The Honda Classic), four other top-25 finishes and nine made cuts in 14 starts.
He's 36th in FedExCup points, 45th in earnings ($868,165) and ranked 61st in the world. And he hasn't been a pro for a year.
"It's been pretty amazing, honestly," he said. "I couldn't really dream to be playing in the Players. A year ago, I'd be getting ready for (NCAA) regionals. After the Web.com season, I got to reflect on it a little bit. It kind of hit me what's happening. I was able to come out on the PGA Tour ready to go and focused."
Guthrie credits his experience at Illinois for his smooth transition to pro golf. The Illini won four straight Big Ten team titles, and he became the first player since world No. 5 Luke Donald (Northwestern) to win back-to-back individual Big Ten titles.
Guthrie has taken a piece of that Illini magic with him on the road. His brother, Zach, was an assistant golf coach at Illinois for six years and now is Guthrie's caddie.
"I kind of had a brother back, in a way," Guthrie said. "It's a little bit of a business relationship - but it's not the same as coach-player. It's more brothers."
And he hasn't forgotten his week in Boise.
Before Guthrie even teed off in the tournament, he hit a terrific shot - nailing a 30-yard field goal at Bronco Stadium in a tour-arranged field trip.
"I'd never kicked a field goal in my life," he said. "The tour kind of organized it. I was playing a practice round on Tuesday and they approached me. I said, 'Heck, yeah.' "
His week just kept getting better after that. A birdie on his first hole at Hillcrest Country Club, par-birdie-eagle starts in the third and fourth rounds and a tournament-record, 22-under total led to a four-shot win.
"From day one, when I stepped on the course, I loved how it set up for me," he said. "I loved the greens. I thought it was going to be a great week - and it came true."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398