It was clear from the very first word Jim Rutledge said down the line from Florida what he was feeling. No verbal description of his emotions was necessary.
Rutledge, the veteran pro from Victoria, just survived the toughest test in golf - the Champions Tour Qualifying School. Only five spots for 78 players.
No one ever said getting on the 50-and-over circuit was easy. Or even fair. The Q-School just highlights that.
But for the second straight year, Rutledge navigated his way into one of those lucrative all-access passes. He's back for another spin on the Champions Tour.
While last year was more of a glide, this time it was a complete grind.
"It was hard," he stated. "I wasn't playing that well; I was really just hanging on."
Rutledge's normally trusty driver failed him last week while the club that has confounded him throughout his career, his putter, suddenly came to life.
"It wasn't a bad trade-off," he said. "I just knew enough to go with it."
Rutledge survived a nasty triple bogey in the third round and fired a final-round one-under par 71 that put him in a four-way tie for fourth spot. He won the playoff for the last card and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
"I'm relieved at the way it worked out," said Rutledge, who figures he's played 13 qualifying schools including the last four of the Champions Tour. "Really it's top five or forget it out there. I'm happy to get past it."
With the pass secured, the 53-year-old is already looking at how to perform better in 2013. His survival is down one of two paths: win a tournament or finish inside the top 30 on the money list, neither one an easy task.
"I need to get off to a fast start," he stated, from Naples, Fla., where he was busy checking out a course he'll play early in 2013. "I really petered out at the end of the year and I was burned out. I want to get past that this time."
A slow start means teeing it up in every tournament, trying to cash a big cheque, trying to move up the money list. Week after week, tournament after tournament, it can be tough to stay fresh. In San Antonio, at the tour's second-last start, Rutledge played despite being extremely ill, knowing he needed to move up.
"It's so hard to miss tournaments," he stated. "You really just can't take any time off. It was a long, long run last year."
The alternative to playing too many tournaments, of course, is playing none. Rutledge will take the former and look to avoid another trip to the next Q-School.