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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can I Have a Mulligan Please?....

Where do I begin? The HP Byron Nelson was obviously a tournament that I will never forget. Unfortunately, it didn't end the way that I wanted but I definitely learned a lot about myself and I will be better from the experience.

I entered Thursday's round with a great deal of confidence and for the first time all year it was a result of my putter. I put a new TaylorMade Ghost in my bag and for the first three days of practice I putted extremely well. The head of the putter is completely white, which according to TaylorMade's research department, improves alignment because of the color contrast with the greens. I immediately found this to be the case and I couldn't wait for the tournament to begin. On Thursday, I was paired with 16 year old and current US Junior Amateur Champion Jordan Spieth. He was a really nice and talented kid and also a Dallas area resident. His fan support was tremendous. I played pretty good the first two rounds but I was definitely second fiddle to Jordan. He became one of the youngest players to ever make the cut in a PGA Tour event and I was glad I saw it firsthand. After 36 holes, I was tied for the lead with Cameron Beckman at 10 under par. I entered Saturday's round in the final pairing, and like most afternoons in Texas, the wind was howling. The course played extremely difficult and unfortunately I didn't hit the ball as well as I would have liked. I struggled mainly off the tee and eventually finished the round at even par (70), two shots off the lead. Sunday's final round was very similar to Saturday's. I was in the final pairing and, once again, the wind was howling. The crowds were enormous and I was fortunate enough to have several friends and family members on hand. I was paired with Jason Day and we both knew the conditions were going to be difficult. I played decent throughout the day and as I walked to the 18th hole, I found myself only one shot back. The wind was blowing hard from left to right and when my 3wood climbed a little higher than I wanted it too, the wind pushed it into the right rough. After a huge bounce, my ball ended up under a group of trees. However, I had an absolutely perfect angle to the green! I was only 166 yards to the front of the green and I couldn't have asked for a better shot from the trees. My normal ball flight moves from left to right and due to my angle to the green and the surrounding trees, a left to right shot was ideal. I couldn't have placed my ball in a better position. The only problem I had was the fact that my ball was sitting in a low area. These little bowl-like areas are usually created from rain water and unfortunately, my ball was right in the middle of one. As I looked toward the green, the limbs on the tree ahead were not even in play. I chose to hit a 5 iron and, once again, I couldn't have asked for a better shot from the trees! However, because my ball was sitting in the low area, it unexpectedly ran up the slope of the bowl and hit a limb. The ball kicked directly left and I painfully watched my tournament hopes roll into the water. I couldn't believe what had just happened! I had a perfect angle, a great yardage, and a shot that required my left to right pattern. It was ideal! The ball just ramped up the slope and hit the limb. I didn't know that Jason had hit his approach shot in the water, but to be honest, it wouldn't have mattered. My only option was to play toward the green and given my "ideal" scenario, I wouldn't have changed a thing (except of course the low area that my ball was sitting in!!)

All in all, I learned a lot from the experience and because of it I will be a better player in the long run. I also learned a great deal about myself. I never felt the nervousness that you would expect from being in the final group of a PGA Tour event. I felt comfortable out there and I approached each day as just another round of golf. I was also pleased, for the most part, with how I played. I held things together pretty well, especially for being in the last group on Saturday and Sunday for the first time. I certainly didn't play my best, but in the end I still had a chance to win. I will continue to work hard and hopefully I will put myself in contention again real soon. Next time, I expect the results to be different!

After signing my scorecard, I walked down the stairs only to find my little shadow Jake waiting for me. I immediately picked him up and he held my neck as hard as he could. Beth, Libby, and several members of our family were standing around. Someone made the comment "Jake, your daddy played really good didn't he?" His response was simply "Ahhhmmm, my daddy hit it in the water!!" Honesty at its finest!

Bryon Nelson is obviously one of the greatest golfers to ever play our sport. As a tribute to him, the tournament committee placed a sign on each tee box last week identifying some of his great accomplishments. His achievements are incredible and I really enjoyed reading them.
* In 1945, he had 18 wins in 30 tournaments
* He won 34 times between 1944-1946
* He shot under par 22 straight rounds in 1945
* He won 6 tournaments by more than 10 shots
* He finished top 5 in the Majors 73% of the time
* His career earning were $220,580.78
* He never shot above 71 in a final round in 1945
* He retired at the age of 34
* He had 113 straight top 20 finishes
* He won 11 consecutive tournaments in 1945
* He had 74 top 9 finishes in 75 events between 1944-1946

This week we are in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Crowne Plaza Colonial Invitational. Ben Hogan lived only a short drive from the course and the clubhouse is filled with his memorabilia. My brother, Chris, actually worked on the grounds crew at this course during one summer in college. I am looking forward to this event and hopefully I can improve on last week's finish!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Lifestyle That Never Gets Old.....

San Antonio. Home of the Valero Texas Open, the Alamo, River Walk, and the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately my experience in San Antonio ended prematurely due to another poor putting performance. The Valero Texas Open, rich in history, was played on a brand new golf course that opened just a few months ago. The TPC of San Antonio welcomed the PGA Tour to its incredible property and the facilities were second to none. The largest hotel in the state of Texas is located just off the 18th green and it is, without a doubt, one of the best hotels I have ever seen. J.W. Marriott, full of restaurants, a water park, an enormous sports bar, and over 1,000 hotel rooms, sits only a few yards from the golf course and practice area. I wish my family had been there to enjoy the amenities. Oh well, maybe next year. I did, however, enjoy not having to spend the week in a hotel room. Good friends, John and Carrie Kimbell, live only a mile from the course and invited me to stay in their home. I had a great time and it certainly was nice to sleep in a non-hotel bed for once. In what seems to be a weekly occurrence, my courtesy car was once again, very nice. However for the first time all year, I felt comfortable driving and I wasn't intimidated by all the bells and whistles. A brand new 4WD Ford King Ranch Truck with only 23 miles on the odometer was mine for the week. As a Chevy/GMC man, I walked away pretty impressed from this truck. If you remember correctly, I could hardly crank the Mercedes Benz I had in Charlotte so this was a nice change. I definitely felt more at home. Speaking of home, Eatonton resident Mike Rainey and his family treated me to dinner on Thursday night. Mr. Mike's daughter Jan lives in San Antonio with her husband and daughter. We had a great time and I really enjoyed catching up. Hopefully they had as much fun as I did. However, as I stated before, a poor putter lead to another disappointing missed cut. I worked hard during the week but it just wasn't my tournament. I stayed in San Antonio and continued to practice throughout the weekend.

Even though my next tournament was just a few hours down the road in Dallas, the perks of being on the PGA Tour was about to spoil me, yet again. The Byron Nelson, a tournament bearing the name one of the greatest golfers in the history of our sport, is widely considered one of the best tournaments on Tour. As a token of appreciation from the tournament, a chartered American Airlines plane flew players Sunday evening into the Dallas airport. We had the ENTIRE American Airlines terminal to ourselves which was a very weird feeling. I am not talking about a gate where you enter the plane, I mean the ENTIRE TERMINAL! We had a security checkpoint and no one was allowed past this area besides players and their families. Kids were running around everywhere and the airport was their playground. I luckily got a First Class ticket and everyone in Coach pretty much sat wherever they wanted. The entire flight was taken care of by Byron Nelson Tournament and when we landed in the private plane section of the Dallas airport, brand new Cadillacs were waiting! Once again, the perks of the PGA Tour left me speechless and impressed.

This week we are in Irving/Dallas, Texas, for the HP Byron Nelson Tournament. I wish Mr. Nelson was still alive so I could have meet him. Prior to his passing, he was obviously a fixture at this event. He would sit just off the 18th green during every round and shake the hands of each player as they passed by. I grew up watching this exchange take place and I wish I could have been a part of the tradition. However, it is still an honor to play in his tournament and I will remember it forever. As a tribute to Mr. Nelson, there is a sign on every tee box which displays various facts and records from his tremendous career. It is really neat to read his accomplishments and I will post some of them on my next blog.

As you will see, this has already been a very busy week! On Monday while I was practicing my putting, one of the greatest putters of all time approached me on the putting green. Dave Stockton, putting instructor of Phil Mickelson and many other Tour players, walked up out of the blue and just started talking to me. I am not sure what made him initiate a conversation but I am certainly glad that he did. He is regarded as one of the best putting instructors in the world. Last week, his students made a clean sweep and won all three major tour events!! (PGA Tour, Champions Tour, and LPGA Tour). Pretty impressive. We discussed the struggles I have been experiencing and worked for a couple of hours. He said that I wasn't very far off but suggested a couple of changes. I cannot thank him enough for his time and hopefully the putts will begin to fall. On Tuesday, I played the course and was accompanied by Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes, and Josh Teater. The Rookies took on the Veterans in a friendly wager, and to the disbelief of most of you, the gentlemen with the least amount of experience on Tour walked away victorious! That evening, Teater and I took our caddies to the Texas Rangers game with Kenny and his family. We all sat in a suite which was provided by the Tournament Committee. Ricky Fowler and a few of his friends came along as well and we enjoyed watching the Rangers defeat the Los Angeles Angels. On Wednesday, I met with a Producer and television crew and took part in an interview for an upcoming show. Their intentions were to meet with a few of the Rookies on Tour and discuss the possibilities of doing a reality-type show. They would follow us each week and allow viewers to see our lives on the road. I am not sure if I want to be a part of the show because I really don't want a camera in my face all day, everyday. We will see. Immediately following the interview, I drove across town and played a practice round at the course where my British Open Qualifier is being held this Monday. I believe there are around 85 players for 8 spots. I will certainly keep you posted.

All in all, it has been another great week on the PGA Tour. I have been working extremely hard on my game and hopefully the results will show. I tee off tomorrow afternoon and I am looking forward to what lies ahead. Thanks, as always, for the continued support and I hope each of you have a great week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Home Sweet Home.....

Well, Quail Hollow certainly lived up to it's reputation. An immaculate golf course, enormous clubhouse, large and energetic crowds, and a very, very expensive courtesy car made for a great week of golf. As you know, the week began bitter sweet with the birth of my second child, Libby, and the passing of my good friend, Hal Sharpe. My mind obviously wondered throughout the week as I thought about how Beth was handling things at home and how the Sharpe family was dealing with their loss. I tried to focus the best I could but there were times where my concentration just wasn't sharp. I played decently well considering my lack of preparation, sleep, and mental state. I finished the week in a tie for 29th and considering all things, it wasn't too bad. The last few holes at Quail Hollow are extremely difficult and are considered by many to be the hardest three finishing holes on tour. The media nicknamed this stretch of holes "The Green Mile." I entered Sunday's round with nine pars on these holes during the first three rounds. My goal was certainly to play these holes under par but given their difficulty, anything around par would be an improvement versus the field. After an unfortunate bogey on the par four 16th, I entered the long par three 17th. This hole is surrounded by water and the crowds are huge. Most people sit here to watch the wind play havoc on the players and in most cases, the water ends up with a nice, brand new golf ball. I was fortunate enough to hit a five iron to approximately 7 feet, the closest of the day. I made the birdie putt and after a par on the difficult 18th, I walked away from "The Green Mile" even par and unscathed. This was also my first event with Tiger in the field and unfortunately, he didn't play well. Remarkably, he missed the cut in a non-major tournament for only the 6th time in his career!

I am sure a few of you got a kick out of my inability to drive my Mercedes Benz S400 Hybrid courtesy car at the beginning of the week. Well, to save face, I finally figured it out and enjoyed its use during the remainder of the week. However, just to make sure I wasn't completely ignorant, I had several of my family members sit in the front seat and attempt the operate my fancy automobile. To my pleasure, they all failed. So, either we are all ignorant or we just don't belong in something that nice! I would have to say both.

This week has been a blast. I hurried home from Charlotte Sunday night and thankfully made it back in time to tuck Jake and Libby in bed. I played in the Georgia Southern Pro-Am Fund Raiser on Monday at Forest Heights in Statesboro. My team won the entire tournament for what I believe to be, the fourth or fifth time. It was basically a family affair as I was joined by two brother in-laws (Russ Yeomans and Jon Butler), my step brother (Matt Rountree), and my former UGA roommate (Bruce Kelly) who by all accounts, is considered family. I returned home that evening to an anxious little boy who refused to leave my side. Jake has been my shadow this entire week and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Libby has already won my heart and she reminds me of Jake as a newborn. She makes the sweetest sounds and I have only heard her cry one time since she joined us last Tuesday. I am very lucky to have two healthy children and I cannot wait for the years ahead. I am also very fortunate to have such a wonderful wife who takes care of our family when I am on the road. I know it is a difficult task trying to nurture a newborn while simultaneously attempting to tame the wild monkey that is our two year old. I am truly blessed and I cannot fathom how she manages everything. I know I couldn't survive without her.

Next week I will be in San Antonio. To my understanding, the course is a new venue for the Valero Texas Open and it is extremely difficult. Several of the players who live in the area and play the course on a regular basis, say that they rarely, if ever, break par. It is a new TPC course that opened earlier this year and I have heard nothing but rave reviews. I normally play the difficult courses well so hopefully next week's event won't be any different. Regardless of it challenges, I will have plenty of time to tackle it when I arrive. As for now, I am just going to enjoy the time with my family and hopefully the little shadow won't leave my side!