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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.

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