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The Professionals: Meet the Guys Making a Living Off ‘Golden Tee’

The world’s best ‘Golden Tee’ players battle it out at the Minnesota Classic

Golden Tee

Chris Thorbrogger competes in the finals of the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

Chances are, you've played a few rounds of Golden Tee at some point in your life. And while you probably teed off for fun (or the next pitcher), there are a growing number of players who are all business when it comes to the game; after all, it's how they make a living.

And the living is good. Over the past decade, players in online Tee tournaments and contests have won more than $50 million in prize money. Sounds like a dream job, but it turns out, it's actually a lot of work…serious players (known in Golden Tee circles as "Bangers" due to the confident way they slam the game's trackball during a shot) grind it out, entering as many as 50 tournaments a day – and chances are, they'd play in more if Incredible Technologies, the company that developed the game, didn't put a cap on the number.

Inevitably, the game's popularity has also given rise to a pro tour, where the best of the best compete for bragging rights, cash prizes and a spot in the Masters of video-game golf: the Player of the Year Tournament in Houston. The Bangers were out in full force at the Minnesota Classic, one of the tour's qualifying events, and Rolling Stone was there to capture the action. And eat some nachos.

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Welcome to the Minnesota Classic

The calm before the storm at the Minnesota Classic Golden Tee Championships. Nearly 50 of the best players from around the U.S. competed for more than $6,000 in prize money, and a spot in the main event: December's Player of the Year Tournament in Houston.

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Mark Stenmark Stands Tall

Mark Stenmark prepares for the 2014 Minnesota Classic Golden Tee Championships. Stenmark won the Golden Tee equivalent of the Masters – the annual Player of the Year Tournament – in 2013. "We all want to beat each other, but it's a fraternity of sorts," he says. "We're all brothers in the Golden Tee community."

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

The Fox Is on the Hunt

Andy Fox at the Minnesota Classic Golden Tee Championships. He won the Player of the Year Tournament in 2011 and is a full-time professional gamer. "I started playing 600-700 games a month," he says. "That's when I could start making a pretty decent living."

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Teeing It Up

Players from around the country go head-to-head at the Minnesota Classic in Eden Prairie. Dressing up as an actual golfer is not required, though as you can see, it's sort of expected.

Golden Tee

Players from around the country compete against one another in the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

The Bangers Mash

The majority of Golden Tee players are run-of-the-mill bar patrons; the obsessives teeing off in Minnesota are Bangers, so-called because of the confident way the bang the game's trackball during a shot.

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Grip It and Rip It

We're not sure how much of an advantage a FootJoy golf glove gives you in Golden Tee, but one Banger was determined to figure it out. We told you these guys are serious when it comes to the game.

Golden Tee

Players from around the country compete against one another in the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

The Short Game

A Banger lines up a putt during the final day of competition at the Minnesota Classic. Even the rawest of Golden Tee rookies can crush a drive like Happy Gilmore; where the real skill (and the big cash) comes into play is in the short game. Hopefully this dude brought his hockey stick putter.

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Stenmark Strikes

Mark Stenmark is supremely focused as he hits a shot at the Minnesota Classic. He'd finish in fourth place at the tournament, behind Bangers Andy Fox, Chris Thorbrogger and Andy Haas…the man he defeated in the finals of the 2013 Player of the Year Tournament.

Golden Tee

Players from around the country compete against one another in the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Here, Andy Fox talks to another player in between a game. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

Andy Fox Talks Shop

Andy Fox talks to another player in-between Golden Tee games. As soon as the ball is on the tee, however, it's a different matter entirely: "The top-tier guys play these courses flawlessly," he says. "I can’t be watching the bar TV while I play. I have to focus or I can get down on myself mentally."

Golden Tee

A portrait of Justin Gordecki's Golden Tee tattoo during the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

Now That’s Dedication

During a break in the action at the Minnesota Classic, Justin Gordecki – Golden Tee player name "Snaggle" –  shows off his tattoo of the game's logo. There is a zero-percent chance he will regret it later in life.

Golden Tee

Ackerman + Gruber

Shooter’s Club

Andy Haas buys everyone a shot after winning the Minnesota Classic. One of the most prolific players in the U.S., Haas, who goes by the username "Ship It," is ranked fourth on the tour's player ranking leaderboard.

Golden Tee

A portrait of Andy Haas, the winner of the tournament, after the Golden Tee Golf tournament at Panino Brothers in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Sunday, August 17, 2014. Golden Tee Golf is a golf arcade game that uses a trackball to simulate a golf swing. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Ackerman + Gruber

The Champ is Here

2014 Minnesota Classic champion Andy Haas poses outside the site of this year's tourney: Panino Brother's bar in Eden Prairie. The win launched him into fourth place on the tour's points leaderboard, which puts him firmly in the hunt for a spot in the Player of the Year Tournament in December.

In This Article: Golf, sports

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