As I walked off the 17th hole on Sunday in Houston, I could hear the grumblings and moans from those of you at home. The Internet showed a double bogey six on my scorecard and a fall from the top 10. Welcome to the PGA Tour. A place where good shots often wind up in spots where par is almost impossible. The 17th hole at the Redstone Golf Club, home of the Shell Houston Open, is a very difficult par 4 measuring 489 yards. The wind on Sunday was blowing hard and into my face. In each of the first three rounds, I drove my tee shot over the bunker on the left hand side of the fairway. By taking this angle, I was able cut off a portion of the dogleg and shape of the hole, thus making my second shot much shorter and easier. However, with the wind more in my face, I decided to aim to the right of the bunker because I wasn't certain I could carry it. I hit my tee shot very solid and it bore through the wind. It landed perfectly to the right of the bunker and ran down the fairway. Unfortunately, it continued through the fairway and up against the lip of a bunker on the right. My ball was lying half buried in a rake mark and I wasn't sure if I could get the ball over the steep lip of the bunker. After several minutes of weighing my options, I decided to advance the ball toward the green rather than layup. My main concern was getting the ball over the lip of the bunker. I was only 162 yards from the front of the green and I felt very confident that I could get the ball somewhere near the green. I succeeded in clearing the lip but the half buried lie made correct contact very difficult. My ball ended up 2 feet inside the hazard line. This would have been fine except for the fact that my ball was one foot above the ground in a bush! With no chance to advance it, I took my penalty shot and dropped the ball outside the hazard. A good wedge shot and two putts later, I recorded a crowd pleasing double bogey six.
A 14th place finish in any PGA Tour event is never a bad thing. However, I walked away with obvious disappointment after my debacle on number 17. Two shots in a PGA Tour event are extremely costly and even though they have the same effect as those lost earlier in the week, the ones at the end seem to hurt the most. As I sat on the plane Sunday evening, I went through each round and analyzed every shot. I do this every week to gain an understanding of where I made mistakes and what areas need improvement. This breakdown also points out the positives that occur. I will be the first to admit that this area often gets overlooked because I put so much emphasis on the mistakes. As usual, there were plenty of positives and negatives. However, as I write this blog almost a week later, the positives continue to weigh heavy on my mind. For example, even though I really didn't hit the ball well throughout the week, only one person beat my cumulative score on Saturday and Sunday. Too bad I wasn't near the lead after Friday! Also, I finished the week with some decent statistics in relation to the entire field - 17th in Driving Accuracy, 16th in Driving Distance, 12th in Putts per Round, and 5th in Putting. This obviously showed that even though I am very hard on myself and my expectations are extremely high, I am not as far off as it may appear. I didn't play my best and somehow managed a respectable finish. I will continue to work hard and hopefully my next event will bring improvement and a better finish.
This week at home has been great. I flew in from Houston on Sunday night and spent all day Monday with Beth and Jake. I checked on our new house, took Jake to swimming lessons, and I hit golf balls with my little shadow (Jake). On Tuesday, I drove to Athens to watch UGA football practice with my brother Chris, my UGA college roommate Davis Thomason and his father in-law, good friend Trey Rhodes, and former UGA football player Brandon Tolbert. Mike Bobo invited us to come watch and after practice we were introduced to Coach Richt. We then drove to Sanford Stadium and walked on the field while Bobo played a highlight video on the jumbo screen for several recruits. I am not sure which thrill was bigger. Meeting Coach Richt, standing on the 50 yard line at Sanford Stadium, or driving my truck alongside the hedges as I circled the inside of the stadium. On Wednesday, I took my lovely and very pregnant wife to Augusta to watch the Masters. The day started great when a parking attendant said he liked my truck and gave us free parking directly across from the main gate at CVS. Kinda strange but ok! We then approached the entrance to Augusta National and for the first time ever, all I needed to enter was my Players Badge. This was a very weird feeling and Beth got in trouble for having a bag that was too large. She sweet talked her way into being able to carry it inside. We walked around a bit and talked to several of my friends playing in the event. We wound up sitting alongside the 18th green and talked with Jake's new best friend "Uncle Perry" (Kenny Perry). Jake started calling Kenny this a few weeks ago when he saw him on the Golf Channel one night. As we were about to leave, I approached a security guard and asked where the nearest restroom was because my pregnant wife was in dire need. He said the general public restroom was down the hill unless you want to follow me into the clubhouse! Ahmmmmmmmm, yeah! We strolled behind the ropes and into a wing of the clubhouse. Beth laughed and smiled the entire way. Afterwards she said I need to hang out with her more often in order to get "star" treatment! Whatever.
I spent Thursday and Friday in Statesboro practicing and preparing for next week's event in Hilton Head. I went home to Eatonton on Saturday to practice as well. I am leaving for Hilton Head today (Sunday) for my first trip to the Verizon Heritage. Due to the close proximity of Hilton Head from some of your homes, I hope many of you will be able to attend. I will find out the availability of tickets on Monday at registration. Some events provide unlimited tickets for players but others like Pebble Beach, only give a maximum of eight passes for the week. I will do my best to gather as many tickets as possible but I can't promise anything. I invite any of you within driving distance to join me for the week. Harbor Town is a very difficult golf course and it demands tremendous accuracy. There are overhanging trees on every hole and the giant limbs make the fairways very small. You can be blocked out from a pin location even if you hit the middle of the fairway!! It will be a tough week but one that I am anxious to challenge. Beth, Jake, and I are staying on the 10th hole with my Pro-Am partner from Pebble Beach. I look forward to seeing those of you that can make the tournament. Safe travels and hopefully the putts will fall this week!
Six years ago today (April 11th), my Dad left this earth on a beautiful Easter afternoon and Masters Sunday. Fans around the world were watching Phil Mickelson win his first green jacket but I never saw him hit a shot. I was in North Carolina at a golf tournament. I finished the event in 2nd place and one shot out of a playoff. My Dad was always the first person I called after I finished a round. When I dialed his home, the paramedics were there attempting to save him for a massive heart attack. They didn't succeed. I rushed to his house in Dalton, Georgia, in shock and disbelief. I spoke with him on my way to the course that morning but in a blink of an eye, he was gone. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about him and the influence he had on my life. Most people say I remind them of him. We have a very similar facial appearance, the same mannerisms, and our laid-back personalities are a perfect match. I wish he was here to see Jake and the other grandchildren that he never met. He was a huge golf fan and would have really enjoyed my rookie season on the PGA Tour. We often talked about what this experience would be like and I credit him for my success. He is truly missed and I often think about him as I walk down the fairway. I always carry something of his in my golf bag or in my pocket. I cannot believe that it has been six years since I last spoke with him. He has missed so much. So as you read this, please do not take for granted those people who are close to your heart. Nobody is promised tomorrow.