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Sunday, February 20, 2011


Lets change things up a bit. Rather than bore everyone to death with yet another tale of missed putts and opportunities, I think the focus should be on the positives of the West Coast Swing and my plan moving forward. On paper, things look dismal. Missed cuts and mediocre finishes have been the norm over the past six weeks. I certainly didn't expect these results when I boarded a plane for Palm Springs back on January 3rd. However, I am actually very, very excited heading into my first off week of the year. I know, I know… can I be excited over another missed cut? Have I lowered my expectations? Absolutely not! For those that know me personally or have followed my blog since day one know that I am very competitive and extremely hard on myself. I accept only the best and I don't settle for mediocrity when it comes to anything that I do. It doesn't matter if I'm playing golf or being a father, husband or friend - I simply expect and demand the best from myself. So with that in mind, I am obviously not thrilled with my results over the past six weeks. However, when I look at the big picture, I am as encouraged, optimistic and excited about my golf game as I have been since turning professional in 2001. That's impossible, right? Three straight missed cuts and "I am as encouraged, optimistic, and excited about my golf game as I have been since turning professional in 2001?" I can hear you now…What about the successful 2009 Nationwide Tour season where I almost won three times and top 10 finishes were almost a weekly occurrence? What about my near victory at the Byron Nelson last year? It sounds weird but I truly believe that I am playing better from tee to green than I did during either of those times. The problem, of course, lies on the greens and my inability to make putts so far this season. Seems like an easy fix, right? Wrong. How can I fix something when it is nearly impossible to pinpoint what exactly is wrong? I continually hit great putts and that is what makes it so frustrating. The ball is starting on line and more times that not, it hits the hole. The ball just isn't finding the bottom of the cup. It certainly would be a lot easier if I was pushing or pulling putts and the ball wound up way off line. Even my playing partner this past week at Riviera, Chris DiMarco, commented several times to his caddy, as well as mine, about my near misses. He told them "I cannot believe how many great putts he has hit that haven't gone in. As soon as they start falling, he will win by a mile." That's pretty encouraging, especially when it comes from a veteran like DiMarco. Despite the talk, at the end of the day (and especially in my mind) a missed putt is a missed putt, regardless of how big or small. So why am I so "encouraged, optimistic, and excited?" The biggest reason is the fact that my ball striking is light years ahead of last season and any other time in my career. I am driving it well off the tee and if I miss a fairway it is usually by only a yard or two. In fact, I can name on one hand the number of fairways I have missed by more than a few yards all year long. The majority of my missed fairways come from actually going through the fairway rather than right or left. My irons are more solid and crisp than in years past, as well. I credit a great deal of that to a pretty healthy hip that is allowing me to turn freely. My good friend and swing coach, John Tillery, has definitely helped add validation to what I am doing with my golf swing. We haven't made any major swing changes so far but we have a game plan in place that will eventually add even more consistency. My short game has improved a great deal, as well, and I am especially excited about my bunker play. So where do I go from here? How can I improve my putting (which in return will improve my results)? I honestly have no idea… HaHa. Just kidding. I have a few things to try this week while I am practicing at home. TaylorMade made me several different putters to try out before I return to action week after next in Florida. Who knows? A small tweak to my setup or a different putter could change things forever. In all reality I am not a bad putter. I am actually a good putter who just wants to be the best.

Like I mentioned earlier, this coming week will be my first off week of the year. I have played six straight tournaments and I haven't slept in my bed or played with my dog since January 3rd. My black lab, Bo (or BoBo), may not even recognize me! I cannot wait to spend the week with my family and see what its like to be a full-time Daddy and Husband again. I plan on taking my little maniac Jake fishing and to the golf course almost everyday. I know he is supposed to attend 3 year old Church school this week but if I have my way, he will be playing hooky!! As for Libby, she is keeping Beth on her toes. I am sure my bride is anxious for an extra hand or two with Libby, and I am looking forward to playing with my girls too.

All in all, my golf game is better than it appears. I am going to work hard this week and hopefully I will see the results in Florida. Regardless of what happens with my golf, my family is happy to have me home and that means more than anything!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Opportunities Missed but Lifetime Experiences Gained....

As I enter my final tournament of the west coast swing this week in LA, I am encouraged but disappointed at the same time. I continue to improve each week and my game is light years ahead of where I was last year. Unfortunately, my results aren't telling the same story. This has been extremely aggravating and I will be the first to admit that frustration has begun to set in. Golf is a game of patience and I am well aware of that. However, time is money and opportunities lost is even more money. Fortunately, my job is unique and each week I am given a clean slate to create more opportunities for success. One good tournament and the mishaps of previous weeks are washed away . Perception and mindsets change along with confidence, a career, and even a lifestyle. I know that I am very, very close. Regardless of how the results and statistics look, I am confident that things are headed in the right direction.

The last two weeks have been eerily similar. Wasted opportunities were once again a common theme on golf courses that definitely suited my game. Two missed cuts by one shot each only added fuel to my ever-growing fire. The Waste Management Phoenix Open once again lived up to the hype and created an atmosphere that no other PGA Tour tournament can match. The crowds were enormous and their opinions were often expressed at volumes not accustomed to the traditional golf course. Good shots were rewarded with loud cheers and applause. However, the mediocre and bad shots got blasted and abused from the rowdy and boisterous crowds. Alcohol played a major role in the criticism and as the day progressed so did the content of the expressions. Extremely cool temperatures for the desert area added an unexpected twist to the tournament and frost delays were very popular each morning. The event was pushed into a Monday morning finish which forced golf fans in corporate America to work a little slower. Despite the missed cut by a shot, the week wasn't a total bust. On Wednesday evening, my agent, Alan Bulllington, and I went to the Phoenix Suns game and sat in a box. I spent the majority of the evening talking golf and sports with current Arizona Cardinal Quarterback Derrick Anderson. He is a golf nut and we had a great time. The Suns beat the Milwaukee Bucks pretty easily, thanks to a 21 point half time lead. Boo, his caddy Joe, and I rented a house for the week and, as usual, there were plenty of laughs. I always have a great time with those guys regardless of how many putts fall during the week. I was also fortunate enough to have several of my longtime friends watch me play. Louis Viamonte, Bill Faith, and Jay Sanders ventured to the course and supported my efforts. However, they spent the majority of their time around the par 3, 16th hole, and for good reason. The coliseum setting, obnoxious crowd and abundant beer stations kept them close to the action. I appreciate their attendance though and hopefully next year I will give them more to cheer about.

This past week I played at one of my most favorite places on earth, Pebble Beach. Another missed cut by one lousy shot unfortunately lead to another short week of work. I didn't capitalize on my opportunities as I mentioned earlier, and as you have gathered, that usually leads to an early exit on the PGA Tour. Beth and Jake flew out to Pebble on Wednesday but sadly left little Libby back home with her grandparents. I had several other visitors to the scenic west coast. My Mom and Step-dad Mike, my brother Chris and his wife Jill, my sister Courtney and her husband Jon and my Uncle David and his entire family flew out to experience the views of Pebble Beach. We rented two houses and obviously had a good time. For the first time in decades, the tournament didn't experience a single drop of rain during the event. Usually during this time of year, rain along the shores of Pebble Beach heavily outweigh the sunshine. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect and my family was able to experience the sights and sounds of the breathtaking shoreline without an umbrella.

For those of you who don't know, the tournament at Pebble Beach is a Pro-Am format that pairs one amateur with one professional. The event is played on three different courses (Pebble Beach, Spy Glass, and Monterey Peninsula) throughout the week and the cut is made after Saturday's round. Jim Crane, my partner at the Bob Hope Classic, was once again my teammate for the week. Neither one of us played our best during the week and we disappointingly missed making the cut in the team division by two shots. The experience was incredible and I truly appreciate his kindness and hospitality throughout the week. On Wednesday, Mr. Jim invited me to play one of the four courses on my bucket list. Cypress Point, one of the most famous courses in the world, is extremely private and rated as one of the top three courses each year by golf publications. Some people say it is easier to get an invite to Augusta National than Cypress Point. I am not sure about that but the experience was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is the purest form of golf imaginable. There is not a single yardage marker on the course or a hole marker. Caddies are mandatory and you have to trust their knowledge of the course. If you have a chance, please Google Cypress Point Golf Club. The views are incredible and the par 3, 16th hole is its signature. I am forever grateful for the invite and my golf bucket list is almost complete. Since I was a child, my dream golf courses have been Augusta National, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, and St Andrews. Thanks to Mr. Jim, St Andrews is the final course on my short bucket list.

The 16th at Cypress Point....

This week I am playing Riviera Country Club on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The course was built in 1927 and is often referred to as "Hogan's Alley" due to the success of the legendary Ben Hogan. He won three events in a span of 18 months at Riviera, one of which included the 1948 U.S. Open. I played the course on Tuesday and really enjoyed the layout. Regarded as a favorite of most tour veterans, Riviera does a great job combining a challenging layout with a traditional golf course. The course hasn't been altered very much over the years and this is certainly a nice change. Often times a golf course will add length and reshape holes in an attempt to slow down the progression of technology. There is something to be said, however, about walking and playing on the same layout and conditions that the legends of the PGA Tour did years ago. The clubhouse and locker room at Riviera does a tremendous job displaying its rich history throughout the hallways. I often find myself staring at the pictures. Just the thought of following in their footsteps is a bit overwhelming. I am very fortunate to play on the PGA Tour and I am proud of every opportunity that I have. However, to walk the same halls and play the same courses that the legends did before me is really, really cool. I often sit in front of my locker each week and wonder what legend sat here and did the same??

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Never Say Never....

The biggest highlight of my 2011 season occurred this past Monday afternoon in San Diego. Immediately following the morning Pro-Am at Torrey Pines, I drove as fast as I could to the house I rented for the week. As I opened the door, I heard a loud "Daddddddy" and watched a teary eyed, three year old boy come barreling down the hall. I knelt down and Jake almost knocked me over as he into my arms. For the first time in his life, he was speechless and didn't say a word for almost 15 minutes. He just hugged my neck and wouldn't let go. I stood up, holding Jake, and walked toward the living room to find my little girl Libby and Beth. This was the first time in over three weeks that I had seen my family. To make matters worse, poor little Libby didn't even recognize me. This absolutely broke my heart. It didn't take long before I had her laughing and playing. Beth was wonderful as usual and I am a very lucky man. It takes a special person to accept a golfer's life on the road with a smile. Whether it is a fake smile or not, she wears it well. I am very proud to call her my wife and I know my kids are in good hands.

Torrey Pines is one of the most scenic courses on the PGA Tour. It sits along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and I often found myself peeking over the ledge like a tourist. This tournament is played on both of the courses located at Torrey Pines. The South course is more difficult and hosted the 2008 U.S. Open where Tiger beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff. Last year the North course was very easy in comparison to the South. However, they made several of the holes longer and added very thick rough to the mix. I played the first two rounds with PGA Tour Veterans Rich Beem and Scott McCarron. Unfortunately they didn't play their best and missed the weekend. Thursday's round on the North course was by far my best ball striking round of the year. I hit 17 of the 18 greens in regulation with my only misfire ending up on the fringe. This was a huge improvement from two weeks ago in Hawaii where my irons were a disaster and it seemed I missed every other green. My putter let me down once again during the first round and I walked away with a disappointing score of one under par (71). I immediately left the course and took a short drive to the TaylorMade Kingdom which is located in Carlsbad, CA. Beth, Jake, and my caddy Aaron made the trip as well. We went straight to the putting lab to hopefully find some answers from my dismal day on the greens. The Kingdom at TaylorMade is amazing, especially when it comes to the putting lab. With the use of about twenty high definition cameras, I was able to analyze my putting stroke, as well as how the ball was reacting off the putter. This information was very useful and it showed that I needed to make a few adjustments to both my setup and putter. The ball immediately began rolling better off the putter. You cannot imagine how useful it was to hit a putt and look at the data, make a tweak or two, and continue to repeat the process until we got the numbers we wanted. I cannot thank everyone at TaylorMade enough for their help. They even made Jake a TaylorMade 6 iron for him to hit on the driving range while we were there. He had a blast and hit almost every ball they had available! The next day I played the more difficult South course. I hit the ball well again and, thankfully, I made some putts. I shot four under par (68) and moved a mile up the leader board. After making the cut, we continued the tradition at Torrey Pines by abandoning the North course on the weekend. Round three and four are played on the more difficult South course and the scores definitely reflect the move. I played pretty good on Saturday but didn't score as well as I would have liked. I shot one under par (71) and went into Sunday's final round in a tie for 13th place. Unfortunately, my golf game deserted me overnight and I didn't play well to finish the tournament. The South course at Torrey Pines doesn't accept mediocre shots and sadly enough, that was all I had on Sunday. My three over par score of 75 looked terrible on paper and to be honest, it felt the same way too. However, as I looked back over my round a few days later, it really wasn't as bad as I thought. Sure, I could have hit more greens and fairways but the course was playing really difficult due to the wind and late rain storm. My disappointing final round score, and eventual finish of 29th, basically boiled down to the par 5's #13 and #18. I bogeyed both holes, which is very uncharacteristic for me on par 5's. Both holes were playing downwind and very easy. Swapping out the bogeys for birdies on those two holes and I finish in a more respectable 14th place. I could have accepted that finish, especially after the poor putting performance in round one.

I have always heard the phrase "you should never say never." Well, for some reason, two of my lifelong "never" comments played a major role in my week at Torrey. As a redneck from South Georgia, I dress pretty conservative. Outside of my clothing requirements with Adidas, I am a jeans and boots kind of guy. It is rare that I wear anything else. My Adidas contract is great and I wear whatever they send me for the most part. Over the last few years, there has been a huge rise in players wearing white pants and white belts. From the beginning of this trend, I swore that I would stick to my Georgia roots and "never" wear either. In my opinion, rednecks don't wear white pants and belts! Well, to help promote the new TaylorMade R11 driver (white faced driver compared to the normal black faced drivers on the market), it was HIGHLY recommended that I wore ALL WHITE on Thursday's round at Torrey. I almost threw up when they told me this!! Since I obviously don't own a pair of white pants or belt, TaylorMade was soooooooo kind and placed them in my locker. So, bright and early Thursday morning, I got dressed in a white hat, white shirt, white pants and white shoes. I couldn't pull the trigger on the white belt so I replaced it with my normal black one. The TaylorMade staff thanked me for being a "team player" and branching out of my normal attire. To add the dismantle of my "I will never" list, I had an interesting pairing during the Monday Pro-Am at Torrey. When I showed up to meet my group of amateur partners, I was greeted by four women and caddies, ALL dressed in PINK!! Once again, rednecks don't wear pink. I laughed when I saw them and I knew what was coming next. They reached in a bag and with a big smile, handed me a lovely pink shirt. I have never worn a true pink shirt before in my life. During Breast Cancer Awareness days, I have worn a light shade of pink in honor of my mother and her battle with the disease. However, the shirt they handed me was truly a PINK shirt. They insisted that I wear it and even bought Aaron one. I reluctantly put it on because, once again, rednecks don't wear pink. Lesson of the week?? Never say never!

This week I am in Phoenix, Arizona, for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This tournament is played in front of the largest crowds on the PGA Tour. The infamous hole #16 is completely surrounded by grandstands and the fans are loud and very outspoken. Good shots are rewarded with loud cheers, while mediocre and bad shots welcome the Boo birds. They are very outspoken and love to voice their opinion. It is the only tournament where boos and heckling are encouraged. It is a crazy atmosphere but fun at the same time. Beer and alcohol stations are strategically located around the 16th, as well as other holes. This obviously elevates the volume of the boos and makes for a very entertaining tournament. Even if you don't watch golf on TV, please take a look at the coverage this week. You will be glad that you did. The Phoenix Open is one of a kind.