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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Three Weeks of Being Inside the Ropes....

Temperatures in the high 70's dominated this year's Travelers Championship in Hartford, Connecticut. Cloud coverage and rain fall unfortunately played a role in these lower temperatures but after my off week in a very hot and humid South Georgia, I wasn't complaining. I practiced extremely hard on Tuesday and when I awoke Wednesday morning, the sound of rain filled my ears. I went to the golf course and after sitting there for almost five hours, I went with plan B. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to play in the Hootie and The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Pro-Am in Myrtle Beach, SC. It was there where I met ESPN employee, basketball expert and radio host Doug Gotlieb. He invited several of us to visit ESPN during the week of the Travelers Championship and after the rain decided to spend the entire day with us in Hartford, I gladly made my way over to Bristol. Doug met a few of us when we arrived and he immediately began giving us a tour of the enormous ESPN campus. I met several legendary and longtime ESPN employees throughout the day and we even sat in on a few shows. Sports Center and NFL Live were being taped Live during our tour of the facilities and it was an unbelievable experience. Doug's radio show began at 4pm and he asked us to participate in a round table discussion before he went on Air. When the conversation quickly turned to golf, Doug asked me to join his show and discuss my opinion on Tiger's game, his personal life, and the respect/intimidation factor that players on Tour have toward him. I politely declined. Talking about other players is not a good idea in my opinion ....especially when it is done through the media! However to Doug's delight, immediately after I declined two other players (both Rookies) jumped at the occasion. They were both pretty opinionated during our round table discussions but as soon as the "On Air" light came on, they quickly changed their tune and they were both became very reserved. Smart move.

The tournament went ok for the most part despite a disappointing bogey on my 71st hole. I finished in a tie for 9th thanks in large part to a solid iron and putting performance. The putts didn't fall on Sunday but I couldn't really complain because I hit great putts....they just didn't fall. That's all the boring golf course information you get!! Haha.

Week two brought me to the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, home of the AT&T National at historic Aronimink Golf Club. Tiger Woods played host for the event and as usual, everything was first class. I arrived at my hotel late Sunday evening and I couldn't wait to crawl into bed. My schedule was already slammed for the week and when my alarm sounded at 5:45am, I was ready to get started. Thanks to an invite from good friend and VWR (logo on my collar) President, John Ballbach, my Monday morning was a rare treat. When he picked me up at my hotel, we made the short drive over to the infamous Pine Valley Golf Club. For those of you that don't know, Golf Publications have always ranked Pine Valley among the top 3 courses in the world! Every year there is a battle between Augusta National, Cypress Point, and Pine Valley. I have been fortunate enough to play Augusta National twice and I played Cypress Point earlier this year. I was curious to see where Pine Valley ranked in my own personal rankings. To say the least, my experience was incredible. The atmosphere was extremely friendly and very laid back. I was expecting to "walk on eggshells" all day but it never came to that. I played with Michael Brown (good friend of John Ballbach), 11 time PGA Tour winner John Cook, and founder and CEO of Quicksilver Bob McKnight. We had a great time and I think they were all a little overwhelmed by the redneck wearing the TaylorMade hat. As far as my personal rankings go??? I am from the great state of Georgia....enough said.

On Wednesday morning, I was asked by the Tour to attend the opening ceremonies for the tournament with five other players. Tiger was among the five chosen for the event and before the festivities began, we were all escorted into a room inside the Aronimink Clubhouse. It was there where we spent about an hour speaking with several Wounded Warriors. As you can imagine, it was quite a humbling experience. Several of the soldiers were without limbs while others were severely burned from explosions that occurred during battle. One gentleman in particular had a roadside bomb to thank for his complete blindness and the loss of both of his legs. And I complain about needing hip replacement surgery?? Really....

That evening, John Ballbach and myself were guests at a private function that I will remember for a very long time. Darius Rucker performed a private concert for just over 150 people and to say it was incredible is a huge, huge injustice. He played all of his latest songs as well as a collection from his Hootie and the Blowfish days. We were even treated to him singing The Joker (Steve Miller Band) and Purple Rain (Prince). It was arguably the best concert I have ever seen!

A balky week with my driver lead to a disappointing missed cut. I was able to avoid my driver problems the week prior in Hartford because I gave up distance for accuracy and hit my 3wood all tournament. Aronimick Golf Club demands a long and straight driver which wasn't part of my arsenal for the week. Once again, that is all that you get from the boring side of the golf course!

If there is one tournament on Tour that caters to a redneck, the John Deere Classic in Moline, Illinois, certainly fits that bill. Beth and the kids made the trip up north and after two weeks alone on the road, I was ready to see them. If you remember from last year's entry about this tournament, the biggest highlight of the week takes place on Tuesday evening at the annual Big Dig. This event is located at the John Deere Test Site and only the players and their families are invited. Food, games, toys, fishing, and enormous equipment await the large number of wanna be rednecks. Kids of all ages are allowed to climb aboard excavators, tractors, dump trucks and other equipment. Most of the "kids" that attempt to maneuver the huge green equipment are above the age of 25. However, one of the most experienced operators on site happened to only be 4 years old. His name was none other than Jake Adams. As he sat in my lap on one of the extra large excavators, several players walked by and were amazed as he maneuvered the bucket in and out of the dirt. I held up my arms to show them that he was digging the massive hole all by himself. Not bad for a 4 year old. I will admit though, Jake did have a huge advantage over the other "kids" at the Big Dig. His PaPa owns an excavator and he only has to travel 4 miles to play on it.

I missed the cut by one lousy shot again (#5 on the year). Nothing more to say.

This week I am in Jackson, Mississippi, for the Viking Classic. This is my first time at the event and I am looking forward to the week. The course layout suits my eye and I cannot wait to get started on Thursday. Temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees with the heat index between 110-115 degrees. Hopefully my putter will get as hot as the temperature!

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