I first heard about Mitch Gillis when Richard Zokol brought him to my attention. Zokol was working with the aspiring Canadian Tour pro and had big hopes for him. A few weeks ago Gillis sent me a note telling me about his plan to raise money for Q School through a site called Ralleme.com. I was intrigued — I’ve heard many times about Canadian tour pros trying to raise money through sponsors, through selling their potential earnings, etc. In Canada at least these rarely seem successful. So Gillis is trying it another way.
Here’s my e-mail interview with Gillis — he’s currently about $3000 short of his goal, which you can follow on his site.
RT: Tell me a little bit about yourself, your career, your successes?
Gillis: Born and raised in Williams Lake, BC Canada. Standard 5-6 month golf season as kid. Played Hockey and Curling in the winter, and golf and soccer in the summer. Eventually quit soccer as it had a conflicting tournament schedule with golf. I was very fortunate that my parents were able to buy me a membership every summer and also paid for me to play a competitive junior schedule. This allowed me improve my game enough to post some good results and to develop my resume as a junior, ultimately leading to being recruited to play collegiate golf in the NCAA. I went on to play my college golf at Oregon state University, where I graduated with honors (Magna Cum Laude) in business administration and was a 4 time PAC-10 Academic All-American. I recorded 1 victory collegiately at the U of Michigan Wolverine Invitational in 2006. That season I also won the Oregon Amateur, Oregon Stroke Play, PNGA Public Links, and was named the 2006 Oregon And PNGA player of the year. I followed up in 2007 by winning low medalist at the Oregon Amateur, Winning the BC amateur, and Quarter-finalist at the Canadian Amateur.
2008 was my first full season as a pro after earning status on the Canadian tour at the 2007 fall Qschool. 2008 I kept my card by $28. 2009 I recorded 4 top-10s on the Canadian Tour and Finished 19th on the Money list. A 2nd place finish at the 2010 Canadian Tour Championship propelled me to 17th on the money list that season. My game ran into its first valley in 2011, struggling to make cuts. I was in danger of losing my Canadian tour Card. I looked at my options, I could have continued to play the remainder of the Canadian tour season to try and earn enough money to keep my card… But instead, I chose a riskier route, took some time off mid-seaon, withdrew from the remainder of the CanTour events, and rebuilt my game with the goal of making to to finals of PGA Qualifying and improving status that way. I advanced through stage 1 on the number. Then finished 2nd at second stage. But my excellent play stalled out at the final stage and left with conditional status on the WEB.com Tour. Being forced to monday Qualify a dozen times, missing by 1 shot on several occasions. And in Pittsburg, I finished in a tie for 4th, but this was the first week of the FEDex cup playoffs where the number of qualifiers was reduced from 14 to 4. I did not win the 4 for 1 playoff. I only actually made the field in 1 WEB.com event the entire season. Obviously losing status at the end of the year. Entered Q school but missed advancing at stage 1 by one shot.
I have been battling a few injuries from January till June with no competition in those months. I am now back to heath! 110%. Hungrier than ever to get back on tour.
RT: Why do you need the money now? What have you done for cash in the past?
Pursuing a career in professional golf is really expensive. A typical FULL season can cost between $70,000-$100,000. After graduating from college, I really wanted to have my name written on two trophies before turning pro. The BC and Canadian Amateur Hardwares… So I took the summer to play one last full amateur schedule while assembling a business plan to secure financial support for the upcoming journey. I was met with a tremendous amount of support! Most of which came from my small home town. With the help of my education in business at school, I drew up an investment prospects which provided $300,000 worth of funding over a span of 5 years ($60,000 per year). I came up with this figure assuming I would also earn at least an additional $30,000 in tournaments which would keep me operating in the black. Part of the prospectus requires my paying back a percentage of my earning over a span of 10 years. My prospectus was different than a typical plan in that I offered a smaller percentage over a longer period of time. The goal here was designed to be mutually beneficial to both parties. It would be easier to sustain myself in the early stages because I could keep a good portion of my earning to reinvest in myself, and the investors would ideally receive a portion of my PGA Tour earnings which are obviously exponentially greater than MINI tour earnings.
The original design had me on tour before the end of year 5. I knew the average time it takes a player to reach the PGA Tour is 7 years but like all athletes, we set loftily goals. However, year 5 has now come and gone, and so has my funding. I feel my game is in the best shape it has ever been, and I am more confident than ever that I have the ability to compete against the best players in the world on the PGA Tour. But I need more help to achieve my athletic goals. Asking one person, or a small group of individuals for the amount of support needed to play professional golf is extremely difficult. I did attempt to draw up a secondary investment prospectus to raise the necessary funds to get back tour and play a full tournament schedule. I even offered all the remaining percentage of my tournament earnings in exchange for the opportunity to keep playing the sport I love. But I was unable to recruit the investors. I really don’t want to quit, especially when I am so close, but I am on the brink of being forced to hang up my clubs because I can’t afford the next entry fee or travel to get to the next event…
But then Jeff Pain, 3 time Olympian, who is my performance coach, introduced me to the concept of Crowdfunding. I was immediately re-energergized and spend the next 48 hours creating a video and profile on RallyME.com. Here the concept is to state a specific goal and timeframe to raise support. I set my goal to raise $12,500, which is enough support to pay for my 2013 Qschool campaign. I decided on a 45 day rally which would take me to entry deadline of this fall’s Qualifying Tournament. The idea is that rather than ask a small group of people for a large amount of money, crowdfunding provides an avenue for a large amount of people to give small contributions that ultimately add up to the amount needed to accomplish the stated goal. Boosters can give as little as $1. And the athlete offers “giveback” for different levels of support. My givebacks include, signed photographs, swing tip videos, swing instruction and playing lessons, and corporate sponsorship opportunities.
I have had a very successful start raising 65% of my goal in the first 10 days. However, I do expect the second half will be an uphill run to the finish.
RT How big a factor is the cash situation when it comes to developing Canadian talent?
Gillis: Funding is VITAL. To become elite, a player needs to give it 120%. There are too many good players with so much talent. To separate oneself from the pack, a player needs to dig into the gray space to find a level of separation. I have seen many examples of guys with so much talent fall short because they are stretching themselves too thin rather than setting up for success. Driving 18 hours to an event rather than flying to save $200. Eating Peanut butter and Jam sandwiches rather than hearty rounded meals, and sleeping on random couches rather than air-conditioned hotels are all examples of things that happen every day to excellent player without enough support. This does not PREVENT a player from breaking through, but it certainly doesn’t help his chances. This also pertains to having access to equipment. I have been very fortunate to have had access to the best equipment from Top manufactures since turning pro. Being fit for top of the line gear only helps one’s chances.
RT: What are you doing this summer? PGA Tour Canada?
Gillis: I got back to heath 3 days before the first PGA Tour Canada event in June. I set sail for Victoria, unprepared, but fully confident in my ability, along with a small amount of space available on my credit cards. My mind saw one thing, and my body did another in Victoria, due to not being able to swing a club for 6 months. Missed Cut, but was shaking off some rust. Week two was washed out from the floods in Alberta, but unfortunately incurred all the costs of a standard tour week. Then I began making some progress in Saskatoon, but the scores were extremely low and I failed to make the cut. At this point, my credit cards only had enough space to book a flight home. SO thats that I did, and I am going to stay here to work on my game and prepare for Qschool while working on my RallyMe project. No more PGA Canada events for the rest of year, only due to lack of funding. If I had the cash, I would be there in a heartbeat, as it would be the best preparation possible leading up to Qschool.
RT: What happens if you manage to raise the cash? What happens if you don’t?
Gillis: One of the main reason I chose Ralleme.com as my funding platform, over other crowdfunding websites is because they do give what ever money is raised to the athlete, event if the goal isn’t 100% raised. Most programs operate on an “All or Nothing” model where if the athlete falls $1 short at the deadline, he gets nothing. But I chose RallME because they do not operate on this model. If I do hit my goal, I will go to Qschool, fully armed and ready for success. I will be able to stay in a safe hotel, eat descent meals, and have a good caddy. If I don’t raise 100% of my goal, I will still go to Qschool and will be completely prepared to play my best and reach my goal, but I will do it in a less than ideal fashion. That may mean eating several peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner, or staying on a friends couch, or carrying my own bag if I have to…