As most of you know, the state of Texas has been really good to me over the last two years. In 2010, I played in four tournaments which were located in the Lone Star State and I finished a respectable 2nd, 14th, and 27th in three of them. Not bad. So as you would expect, I was definitely looking forward to playing back to back tournaments in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial was the first stop on my Texas swing. Located in Fort Worth, the Colonial is the home of PGA Tour legend Ben Hogan. His trophies and memorabilia are proudly displayed throughout the clubhouse and it is truly an honor and privilege to be invited and play in the event. Swirling winds and huge gusts were expected throughout the week. Already known as a "ball strikers" golf course, the difficult conditions only enhanced the Colonial's tough reputation. I entered the week well aware of the forecast and I was excited to get started. Good ball striking has been the norm for me this year and I certainly expected the trend to continue. Well, it didn't, and for some reason I hit it like a mule the entire week! Fortunately, though, my hard and seemingly endless work with the putter finally paid off. I finished the week tied for 5th and 11th in both putting statistics. These improved numbers helped lead the way to a T16th finish despite the poor ball striking week. Once again, I was reminded just how important it is to be a good putter on the PGA Tour! Amazing....I finished 16th hitting it like a mule. Can you imagine where I would have placed if my "normal" ball striking would have shown up? I sure can. As I walked off the 18th green on Sunday, I was immediately greeted by three reporters. Their first question...."How often do you think about the Byron Nelson and the events that took place on the final hole??"
The HP Byron Nelson. Site of such heartbreak and disappointment. It has been almost 365 days since my attempt to win my first PGA Tour event fell by the wayside (well, actually they washed away!!). I returned to Irving, Texas, with big plans and aspirations of finishing off what I started one year ago. My duel with eventual winner Jason Day on Sunday certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth. My expectations were extremely high but I did my best to treat it as just another golf tournament. I felt prepared as I entered the first round and my game plan was almost identical to the previous year. Unfortunately, though, the weather stole the headlines and played havoc during the week. On Tuesday night, several tornadoes ripped through the area and caused a great deal of damage. Baseball size hail pounded the ground, shattered car windows and damaged the greens beyond belief. High winds caused large trees to fall around the golf course and there were limbs everywhere. As we all know, the weather is unpredictable and it plays a major role in determining the outcome of a tournament each and every week. Players are on the course from dusk to dawn and the conditions can change quite frequently during this time frame. As a player, the hope is that the conditions remain fairly consistent throughout the day. Unfortunately some weeks this is simply not the case. The morning tee times are usually ideal for scoring due to the calm winds and it is up to the player to take advantage of the conditions. However, on Thursday the wind blew around 15 mph in the morning but settled down to around 7 mph in the afternoon. The 8 mph difference in wind is not a big deal except for the fact that it blew harder in the morning. An opening round 70 left me in decent position especially since I had an early tee time. I woke up Friday morning and watched as players took advantage of the mild wind conditions. The cut line was at Even Par and when my good friend Ben Crane finished his round and +2, he was in 87th place. Well, things quickly changed. The afternoon winds began to blow and by the time I walked to the first tee, my phone app said that the winds were churning at 30 mph with gusts up to 44 mph!! Nice. I played pretty good in the tough conditions but the putts just wouldn't fall. Six lip-outs during the round contributed to a second round score of 74 and an eventual missed cut by one shot (my 4th missed cut by one shot this year). Ben, however, was glad to see the change in weather. When he completed his round, he was well outside the cutline and his hopes of playing on the weekend were near impossible. However, when the gusty winds showed up that afternoon, he quickly moved from 86th place to a very comfortable 60th place. It was unfortunate to play on my wave of tee times but that is part of it. Every week, one wave plays harder than the other. As mentioned earlier, the only hope is that the two waves are fairly consistent. Some weeks this happens and other weeks it doesn't. That's just part of golf.
My Texas Swing didn't end as well as I would have hoped but I was excited about the next two tournaments on the schedule. The Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, is by far one of the best events on the PGA Tour. Hosted by one of the greatest players ever to play the game, Jack Nicklaus, the Memorial Tournament leaves no stone unturned and the players are treated like royalty. All the top players in the world show up to play Muirfield Village and their presence add a Major-like atmosphere to the event. Considering how poorly I hit the ball, my 37th place finish wasn't too disappointing. I managed to mask my poor ball striking efforts with another solid week of putting. I finished 13th and 26th in the two key putting statistics for the week and those obviously were instrumental in my decent finish. However, the highlight of the week occurred on Monday afternoon. Shortly after Kenny Perry and I sat down to eat lunch, a gentleman walked to our table and asked if he could sit down and join us. I looked up to see the legend himself, Jack Nicklaus. He sat directly across from me and it was an experience I will never forget. We talked for almost two hours about the golf course, our families, and stories of life on Tour. He went into great detail about some of his experiences and I cannot thank him enough for his honesty and insight . During this time, I was able to tell Mr. Nicklaus the story of our first meeting and encounter way back in 1993. I was 16 years old and the Men's Club Champion at Reynolds Plantation. Mr. Nicklaus had just finished building Great Waters (a remarkable golf course that sits along the edge of Lake Oconee at Reynolds Plantation) and he was in town to play his inaugural round of golf. As Men's Club Champion, I was allowed to walk several holes alongside Mr. Nicklaus and he played the course in front of thousands of spectators. It was an honor and privilege and he claimed he remembered the experience. The opportunity to sit across the table from him and basically have a one-on-one conversation was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I will never forget.
The FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, completed a nine week consecutive run of tournaments. This was my first trip to the city of Elvis and it was very memorable. Beth and the kids joined me for the week and we all had a great time. Poor ball striking was, unfortunately, the theme for the week but, once again, the putter saved my tail. I entered Sunday's round still searching for my swing and somehow I found myself in a tie for 7th place. I battled through the extremely hot temperatures in my traditional Sunday All-Black attire and I did the best I could as far as my golf game was concerned. A less than stellar swing provided me with very few birdie opportunities and a round of 71. A tie for 15th place was definitely disappointing considering where I entered the final round but given the way I played throughout the week, I felt like I was fortunate to end up in that position. The tournament was a success on and off the golf course. The event benefited the St. Jude Hospital and the thousands of kids who visit their facilities every year. Children are a huge part of my life and I am thankful that I was able to help contribute to the financial impact that the tournament has on so many sick individuals. I was able to meet several of the patients and it definitely put my life into perspective. I am very thankful and I count my blessings every day.
Last week I was at home for the first time since Masters week!! Nine consecutive weeks on the road is a long, long time. Everyone sees the glitz and glamour of life on Tour but they forget about the weeks and months where I am on the road and living out of a suitcase. We celebrated Jake's 4th birthday last week and I cannot believe how fast the last three years have flown by. He is growing up so fast and Libby is following suit. I really need to start winning tournaments so I can spend more time at home!!
I flew to Washington DC on Sunday night for a ProAm benefiting the First Tee Program. It was an incredible event and I was able to spend a great deal of time with several inner city kids throughout the day. A ton of Politicians participated in the event and thankfully we were able to raise a great deal of money for those less fortunate kids. One of the perks of the tournament included a charter flight from the DC area to this week's PGA Tour event in Hartford, Connecticut. I spent the entire day on Tuesday working with TaylorMade to find a new driver. Over the last few weeks my "ol faithful" has been acting up and for good reason. I was told that I flattened the face on the club which, for you non-golfers, is not a good thing! Hopefully I will have something in place come Thursday....we will see. Last year, Bubba Watson won this event and his career took off. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing another Georgia Bulldog win this year! I think I could deal with more time at home!!