In the world of miniature golf, Brad Lebo is a giant.
The 1983 Penn grad and former DP sportswriter was attending Penn Dental School in 1989 when he joined some friends for a round of golf outside of the city. On the way home, they stopped at a Putt-Putt miniature golf course. His his life hasn't been the same since.
Lebo discovered that the course was hosting its weekly golf tournament. He decided to return the following week to compete himself.
Before long he was traveling with some of the players to other miniature golf tournaments. Two years later, he turned pro. He has played a full tour schedule ever since -- roughly 50 events a year, year in and year out.
"I kind of got full blast into it right away," he says.
"I thought there was a possibility that this could be something I could excel at, because putting was the strength of my golf game. And once I started competing, I developed the skill-set to play well. It just drew my interest from day one."
In 2006, Lebo became the first player in his sport to win the two major tournaments in the same year: the Professional Putters National Championship and the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association U.S. Open Championship.
He has been the Virginia Player of the Year four times and the North Carolina Player of the Year twice.
In all, Lebo has won 89 tournaments and $125,000, including $5,500 in a skins game televised by ESPN. His total earnings would be just a good weekend for Tiger Woods -- but in the world of competitive miniature golf, it's huge, placing Lebo in the Top 10 in career prize money among all active pros.
"I have been called the 'Putting Penn-man', " he says.
The professional miniature golf season runs from late February to deep into October, with tournaments scheduled almost every weekend. Lebo might play as many as two dozen rounds of mini golf in a typical day of practice, and prepare for as long as a week before the major tournaments. He has installed a miniature-golf-like "putting carpet" on the first floor of his south-central Pennsylvania home so he can maintain his putting skills in the winter.
"Putting in the hard work and getting the reward for it, in the end, is a big part of the incentive, the challenge, of it," he says.
Lebo is the dentist for a rural medical clinic outside Shippensburg, Pa., a position that gives him enormous flexibility to play mini-golf in his spare time.
He is married, but his wife rarely accompanies him to the tournaments.
The competitions typically are held in small towns and, "It's all business when we play. There isn't much to do except putt for 12 hours, sleep, get up and do it again," Lebo explains.
Lebo was a general assignment sports reporter for the DP as a freshman and sophomore, part of a full plate that included playing in the Penn Band, being a member of the Penn swimming and golf teams, and taking pre-med courses as a Biology major.
While he enjoyed his stint at the DP -- even the late nights of copyediting -- by the time junior year rolled around, Lebo had decided to step away from the paper.
"Something had to give. It was all pretty time-consuming."
Still, he manages to draw on his DP experience, writing 30 to 35 articles a year for the ProPutters.com web site.
Although it might seem like a sedentary sport, professional mini golf can be grueling. Players are on their feet for hours at a time and need good eyesight and a steady hand. Lebo says he will play competitively as long as his body will allow it.
"I guess I am a dentist first because it is my actual money-making career and I spend more time on it than anything else," he says, "but in my heart, I am a professional putter first."