Mario Tiziani walked away from professional golf in 2007 and regained his amateur standing six years later with the idea that he would play more competitive golf in a less demanding environment and, in time, rediscover his love for a game that has been linked to his family name for generations.
That rediscovery continues to be a work in progress for the former PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and Mackenzie Tour/PGA Tour Canada golfer from Madison.
Now 50, though, Tiziani knows there is another golfing frontier that can get him there and he is being given the chance to find it next month in the city where he played high school golf at Madison East and college golf for his father, Dennis, at the University of Wisconsin. Mario Tiziani was announced Tuesday among the four latest additions to the American Family Insurance Championship, receiving a sponsor's invitation to play in his first PGA Tour Champions event since becoming eligible for the senior circuit last July.
Tiziani, who per PGA Tour Champions rules must again turn professional to compete in the 54-hole event at University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, will join Darren Clarke, Alex Cejka and Jesper Parnevik in the 81-golfer field. He is also the fourth Madison golfer set to play in the AmFam Championship, joining brother-in-law and tournament host Steve Stricker, reigning champion Jerry Kelly and 71-year-old Andy North, a two-time U.S. Open champion.
For Tiziani, it will be his first multi-day tournament since the 2013 Tapemark Pro-Am where he tied for 15th place behind fellow former Badger Ryan Helminen, now a teaching professional in Neenah, and John Carlson, now the men's golf coach at Northern Illinois University. Tiziani has entered two pre-qualifiers for events on the PGA Tour Champions, falling in a 7-for-1 playoff for the final spot in the Monday qualifier at the Chubb Classic and missing by six shots at an earlier pre-qualifier for the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Ariz., after turning in 3-under only to "go off-kilter" and struggle on the back nine.
"It took me awhile to find the love for the game, to be honest," Tiziani said in a telephone interview Tuesday, saying he has found happiness as an agent and partner in MGC Sports, an agency representing NFL players (including recent No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars), NCAA and NFL coaches and PGA Tour golfers. "I was pretty bitter with golf when I stopped playing. It took a lot out of me. But my kids are going to be in college now and ... I guess I don't really know. I'm excited to compete. I don't doubt it's in there, that I can compete. It's just different when there is a scorecard and pencil in your pocket."
Tiziani remembers those days well.
He earned Big Ten freshman-of-the-year honors in 1989 and, one year later, was on the first Badgers team to compete in an NCAA Regional and at the NCAA Championship. He won the Madison City Tournament three times before winning the 2002 Wisconsin State Open, which served as a launching pad to the Canadian Tour in 2003 where he won the Northern Ontario Open and an unofficial event in Panama.
Two years later, in his 12th attempt, Tiziani qualified for the PGA Tour. He made more than $181,000 in 2005, making 11 of 23 cuts, but it wasn't enough to keep his PGA Tour card. Tiziani spent two more years on what was then the Nationwide Tour before eventually settling down in the Minneapolis area to begin his life as an agent while his wife Kressi continued to grow her own orthodontics practice and the couple raised their two daughters — Alexa, 20, who attends Arizona State, and McKella, 18, who will join her in the fall.
"Obviously, it's been talked about," Mario Tiziani said of the exemption for the AmFam Championship and the chance to test his game against the best over-50 golfers in the world. "But I haven't played a lot of golf, really. When it kind of came at me, if I'd accept it, there was zero hesitation, being competitive as I am and wanting to compete. And I haven't competed for so long. I think I was pretty excited to give it a rip and see how it goes."
And if there was ever a doubt that the PGA Tour Champions is the land of opportunity, it has been reinforced each of the last two tournaments on the senior circuit. Cejka, an alternate into The Regions Tradition, knocked off Stricker in a playoff to win his first senior major and earn exempt status through the 2022 season, before Dicky Pride went from Monday qualifier to tournament champion at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, rallying from five strokes behind after 18 holes with a pair of 67s to become the 14th open qualifier in the tour's history to go on to win that week's tournament.
"I've certainly thought about it," said Tiziani, who has also watched Illinois men's golf coach Mike Small — Stricker's college teammate at Illinois — successfully dabble on the PGA Tour Champions since turning 50. "I've got another career that is important to me and I've spent a lot of time on in the last decade so that's obviously something I can't push to the side. But I think I could do both if the opportunity came. Who knows? If I had a good week or got in some other weeks and gained some status, it's just hard to say.
"Mike Small has kind of done this. He's coaching, which is obviously his career, but he's been able to play as well. I think I'd love to try it."
Tiziani, who caddies for Stricker when his sister and Stricker's wife, Nicki, cannot, has kept himself in good shape and believes his length off the tee would be an advantage on the PGA Tour Champions. "I actually think I'm a better golfer ... than I was when I played on the (PGA) Tour," Tiziani said. "Maybe it's being a little more mature. I've been around the game a ton."
Just as quickly, though, Tiziani wonders how he would handle "the grind" that comes with life as a touring professional. He got a taste of it during his two PGA Tour Champions pre-qualifier starts earlier this year and was admittedly surprised at how some things didn't come back as quickly as he had hoped.
"The biggest thing I notice outside of the short game being a little off was being able to handle adversity on the golf course," said Tiziani, who will have his former caddie Mike "Wally" Niebuhr on the bag for the AmFam Championship at University Ridge. "That was really, really something that stuck out that I had lost. A bad lie or a bad situation felt like I got derailed a little bit quicker than I normally would have, just because I haven't been in a position like that. As long as I was in the fairway or on the green and made it your standard round of golf, I was fine.
"But the minute some adversity came into play, that's where I felt the most removed from tournament golf."