Donald Constable didn't earn his way onto the PGA Tour by being a pessimist. Yet as he makes his professional debut this week he's also a realist.

"You play golf to win, not to finish top 10 or top 20," Constable said from Honolulu, where the Sony Open begins Thursday. "Those achievements are nice, but it's not the goal."

So was that a prediction by the former Gopher and Minnesota high school state champ from Minnetonka?


"I just want to make the cut," he admitted.

Yep, just like the 143 other players hoping to successfully navigate the palm tree-lined doglegs of Waialae Country Club for a piece of the $5.6 million purse.

Welcome to the Tour, rook.

"These guys are the best in the world at what they do," said Constable, 23. "I know it's going to be hard out here."

Constable landed on Oahu on Saturday and checked in for his first professional event the next morning. After all the paperwork had been filled out he was asked to autograph a collection of flags, posters and other memorabilia splashed with sponsors' logos.

That's when it hit him: Scribbled next to where he had been asked to pen his own name were the signatures of golfers he grew up watching on TV.

"I've tried to stay the same and keep telling myself that it's just golf," Constable said.

Troy Merritt gives a big gallery golf clap to that.

"He'll quickly realize it's not Minnesota any more, and the sooner he [does], the better he'll be," Merritt said.

Merritt, a Spring Lake Park graduate, knows the severe ups and downs of a golfer's career. He won the PGA Tour qualifying tournament -- or Q-School -- in late 2009 and made his Tour debut at the Sony Open the following month.

He arrived with authority, finishing in a tie for 20th ahead of players such as Bubba Watson, Luke Donald and K.J. Choi.

Merritt then tied Choi for 15th two weeks later at Torrey Pines -- a shot ahead of eventual Masters champ Phil Mickelson. But he missed the cut at Pebble Beach by a shot in the next event.

Frustrated, Merritt got the mindset that he needed to make changes to his game. He didn't.

Merritt missed the cut his next six times out before a career-best third-place finish in New Orleans at the Zurich Classic.

After falling out of the top 125 on the money list, he'll spend most of this season on the Tour.

"It's a long process," said Merritt, who has missed more cuts (30) than he's made in 52 career PGA Tour events and fell short of this year's Sony Open at a Monday qualifier. "And my best advice would be to focus on your game, your first shot off the tee."

Constable earned his card the hard way after 2 1/2 months of Q-School. He finished the six stages in a five-way tie for 22nd place -- just enough to advance to golf's top arena.

Even that won't always be enough.

Because he was among the last to earn his PGA Tour card, Constable will have to play his way into some events.

After the top 125 fully exempt players are offered spots, the field is filled out using Tour rankings and Q-school marks. A set number of spots are left open for players to earn their way in on Mondays.

"I don't know a ton about it yet," Constable said. "I'll just show up when I'm supposed to play and be pumped and excited for it and make the best of it."

Those who know Constable best have confidence in him.

"If there's one kid out there who can go out and achieve, it's Donald," Minnetonka boys' golf coach John Coatta said.

"Some kids get it and some don't. And he wanted this."