Mike Grob, who is the self-proclaimed “A-1 delivery driver” for the family-owned Pita Pit in Billings, is about to hit the road for Canada to do something else he’s pretty good at: play professional golf.
The 49-year-old Grob will be among the 156 players teeing off next Thursday in Victoria, British Columbia, at the $150,000 Times Colonist Island Savings Open, which will be the first event of the inaugural PGA Tour Canada season.
"I can't tell you how anxious I am," he said with a grin this week before beginning his lunchtime deliveries. "Even though I love working at Pita Pit (alongside his wife/owner Kristi), golf is much better. Much more fun."
Grob is also no stranger at the Victoria tournament, which will be played at Uplands Golf Club. He won it in 2006, and has reigned as the all-time money winner since 2005 on what was formerly known as the Canadian Tour.
What is different this time around is that Grob, one of the best golfers Montana has ever produced, isn’t fully exempt to play in every tournament this year as he has been in the past.
While he is included in the tour's veteran category, Grob will be playing next week on a sponsor’s exemption — courtesy of a well-positioned friend, Bob McKenzie, who recently retired as the publisher of the Times-Colonist newspaper in Victoria.
Grob's remaining schedule for this spring and summer will largely be contingent on how well he performs against the tour's young guns in the opening event.
“I don’t like it all riding on one tournament, but that’s the way it’s going to be this year,” he said. "Which is kind of tough for me. I usually get better as the year goes on, so it's going to be a little nerve-racking."
A top 10 finish in Victoria would likely secure Grob a spot in the season’s second tournament — the ATB Financial Classic in Calgary, Alberta, during the week of June 17-23 — and perhaps set the stage for the rest of the season.
Grob, who has been part of the Canadian Tour off and on since turning pro in 1988, participated in only three events last year, which complicated his playing situation this year under the tour's new guidelines for veteran players.
“It used to be where the veteran's category (ranking) was determined by your career money,” he said. “But they changed it — and I don’t know when — to where for veterans it was based on what they made last year.
"I ended up being sixth in the veteran's category, which I thought I'd be first all the time, being the leading money winner. It was disappointing to see that.”
In 2012, Grob focused on playing in the new United States-based National Pro Golf Tour, which abruptly succumbed to financial problems in mid-July.
“I enjoyed it,” Grob said of that fledgling tour. “It was fun, but I also missed one Canadian event because I forgot to commit to it, which is my fault. The (tournaments) in the east, the purses dropped so much that I decided I couldn’t afford to go.
“I wish I would have now, but then we didn’t even know if the Canadian Tour was going to be around anymore.”
The PGA Tour came to the rescue of the 42-year-old Canadian Tour late last fall. There are nine tournaments coast-to-coast this summer, with the top five money winners overall earning cards for the 2014 Web.com. Tour, which is a major stepping stone to the PGA Tour.
With new events, a busier schedule and a clear path to the PGA Tour, interest is up and the competition for one of the 156 playing spots for each tournament is also more intense.
“I don’t think there’s a limit to what they can do now,” Grob said of the PGA taking over the Canadian Tour. “When you have the backing of the biggest golf brand in the world, you’re going to be fine.”
Grob is a six-time winner on the Canadian Tour, including the 1998 Canadian Masters. He has won around $540,000 on the tour over the years, along with the nearly $700,000 he has pocketed on the PGA, Nationwide, Buy.com and Nike tours.
In looking for a strong start to this season and getting a better grasp on what his immediate playing future in Canada will be, Grob couldn't ask for a better place to begin than Victoria, which is a place where he has prospered in the past.
He has had two top 10 finishes at Uplands since 2008, and won at Royal Colwood Golf Club in 2006 and was fourth there in 2007.
“It’s just so fun to go to Victoria,” Grob said. “Just to be there is a joy. If you feel comfortable with your surroundings, you’re going to feel comfortable on the golf course. Hopefully that will work out for me.”
Besides making his Pita Pit deliveries, Grob has been grooming his game during practice sessions at Yellowstone Country Club and Par 3. He has competed recently at tournaments in Polson and Riverton, Wyo.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball as good as I can, but my short game is just not there yet,” Grob said. “I putt good for a few holes and then hit kind of a squirrelly one. Short putts are fine, but those mid-length 10- and 12-foot putts for birdie, I’m just not making the ones that I should.”
Way back in the summer of 1983, Grob won the first of three consecutive Montana State Amateur championships. Thirty years later, the Montana State Golf Association Hall of Famer still has plenty to play for.
Whether it's in Canada or somewhere else, Grob is looking to polish his game over the next few months in preparation for his attempt this fall to qualify for the PGA's Champions Tour. If successful, he can begin playing on that tour alongside Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples next May when he turns 50.
"I want to play as long as I can," Grob said of golf. "It's all I know. It's what I love. Thankfully Kristi is willing to let me do it as long as I can."
Even if it means she could be losing her "A-1 delivery driver."