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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oh How I Love Small Town USA....

I wish every town in America had the same population as mine...130 people!  Life would be so much simpler and I truly believe that people would enjoy their time on earth much better.   Unfortunately, my precious gem of a hometown is not the norm for cities located inside the borders of our great Nation.  The hustle and bustle of big city America is unbelievable and I will never understand it.  The site of my last event, The Northern Trust Open, is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from my quiet South Georgia town.  Los Angeles, home of chaos, a gazillion people, traffic, and did I mention, a gazillion people!

On my way home from beautiful Riviera Country Club on Tuesday afternoon, it took me 1 hour to go two blocks!  Really?...two blocks...that is only two red lights or the distance of a short Par 4!  In South Georgia, 1 hour of travel time will usually yield 60-80 miles depending on the weight of your foot and the location of Barney Fife.  However in Los Angeles, 1 hour of travel time during the wrong time of the day will only get you two lousy blocks!  Unbelievable.  Like I said...I will never, ever understand it!

President Obama was in town on Wednesday and according to the 6 motorcycle policemen and SWAT Teams every half block leading up to my hotel, he was either inside my hotel or very, very close by.  I told Beth that unfortunately my location and safety was pretty much cut and dry...I was either extremely safe due to his proximity or I was in extreme danger because of all the crazy yoyo's in this world.  There was no in between!  My hope and prayers were certainly on the safe option and I putt all my trust in the hundreds of policemen, SWAT, and helicopters flying around my hotel that I would see my children at weeks end.

My golf looked pretty pitiful from the sidelines this past week.  A missed cut by a shot is always frustrating but after I sat down and analyzed my rounds, I wasn't as disappointed.  In 2011, Riviera Country Club yielded more 3 putts than any other course on Tour.  Whether you blame it on the Poa Annua greens, the inconsistent ocean and hill affects, or the guys on Tour that cannot walk in metal spikes, the greens at Riviera are difficult to putt.  With that being said, I had 6 three putts in two rounds and I missed 3 additional putts inside five feet!  And that my friends... is a recipe for a missed cut.  The good news is that I only missed the cut by one shot which indicates that I did more than a couple of things right.   Also, I am fortunate that missed short putts and an abundance of 3 putts is not the norm for my golf game.  Heading into last week's event, I was inside the Top 6 on Tour in 3 putt Avoidance.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case!

This week I am at home resting my body after 7 weeks on the road.  The last time I laid my eyes on my house, dog, and truck, the calendar read January 3rd!  That was a long, long time ago!  Beth and I decided to surprise the kids and not tell them exactly when I was coming home.  I simply walked in the door and stood in the hallway where they couldn't see me.  I heard my little angel Libby call out "PaPa?" in hopes that Beth's Daddy was the culprit for the door chime.  I peaked my head around the corner and I wish I had a recording of my children's voices.  "DADDY!!" rang out and filled our home.  The sound of happiness followed by tears of joy filled their faces.  My little sidekick Jake wouldn't let go of my neck and I didn't let go either.  I certainly hate being away from them but at the end of the day, little moments like the one I experienced on Saturday night will last forever.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Views of Pebble and an NBA Legend...

I hope some of you were able to catch the television coverage of this past week's tournament at Pebble Beach. The views were amazing as usual and thanks to the rain and windy conditions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the waves were enormous. I found myself staring off into the ocean which as you can imagine, created a very calm and peaceful feeling. I am very fortunate and blessed to have an office view like Pebble!

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is always a special event on the PGA Tour. Professionals are paired with celebrities and CEO's throughout the week and the atmosphere is fun and extremely laid back. I was once again paired with my good friend and Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane. We had a great time and I was very intrigued by our conversations of his day to day operations with the Astros. Jim lives in Houston and obviously has an extremely influential circle of friends. This year, Jim invited his good friend and fellow Houstonian Clyde "the Glide" Drexler to join our group during the Tournament. It was truly an honor to spend three days with both of these two gentlemen and I will forever remember the experience. As a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, Clyde has achieved tremendous success on and off the basketball court. I was thoroughly impressed with his 4 handicap (Jim's as well..2 handicap) and his "go to" shot...a low bullet power fade. Clyde burst into laughter on the 4th hole when I began calling him Clyde "the Slide" in reference to his seemingly effortless power fade. We instantly became friends and I spent two evenings eating supper with both of my Amateur partners during the week. The stories that the two of them told were amazing! Inside tales of Baseball and Basketball were the common theme and I couldn't believe the one that I am about to tell.

Clyde Drexler, NBA Hall of Fame Member, was CUT from his 10th grade Basketball team. How that happens....I have no idea! He eventually was asked to join the team after the Head Coach saw him playing in the gym one day during lunch. At first he refused to play for the man who embarrassed and cut him only weeks earlier. However, after an in-home visit from the Coach with Clyde's mother, they eventually convinced him to play for the school. He went on to average over 30 points and 20 rebounds and 15 assists a game! Amazingly enough though, Clyde was not on many college radar's and if not for one of his best friends, he might not have played in college at all. A package deal of sort, landed Clyde and his best friend (also one of the top players in the country) at the University of Houston. They went on to greatness and with the help of another NBA Hall of Fame player, Hakeem Olajuwon, became one of the best teams in the history of college basketball. However, things didn't start off so well. Clyde told me that when Hakeem showed up for his first day of practice with the Houston Cougars, the point guard passed the ball down to the future NBA Hall of Fame player. Hakeem caught the ball, tucked it like a football, and began running down the court like a running back! Seriously...a future NBA Hall of Fame Member started his legendary basketball career galloping down the court like Herschel Walker!!!?? Unreal.

The experiments with my equipment were costly as I missed my first cut in four weeks. The golf ball change was detrimental as well as a Driver and 3 wood that couldn't find the fairway. Obviously, the game of golf is hard enough but when you play from the rough on seemingly every have no chance. I am extremely frustrated with my game right now because the hard work that I have put in each and every week hasn't paid off. I have practiced harder this year than any time in my career! My hands are beat and battered and the cuts and blood are evidence of my hard work. Regardless of the results, I will continue to work hard and I truly believe that great things are on the horizon.

This week I am in LA for the Northern Trust Open at historic Riviera. Traffic has been a nightmare throughout the week but I am managing pretty good for a Redneck. Hopefully this week will be MY week and my frustration will be an afterthought come Sunday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Made Cuts, New Equipment, and Some Great Pairings....

The last few weeks have been pretty uneventful in terms of great stories and adventures. I played in three tournaments and successfully made all three cuts. Beth and the kids journeyed out for the first two events and they were definitely the highlight of this past stretch. I rented a house for both of the tournaments they attended and I am very thankful that I did. My two wild hyenas had plenty of room to run around and this definitely helped out with their adjustment to time zones and bed time. The first house I rented for the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, California, was located on a golf course inside PGA West. Mid-70 degree temperatures throughout the week were certainly a welcomed sight for my family who had just traveled from the cold January temperatures of Georgia. Jake and I ventured out on the golf course behind our house every afternoon and I was of course….his caddy. He smoked his "Big Dawg" and we had a blast walking the fairways in our bare feet. Libby usually followed along and I spent most of my time chasing and eventually pulling her out of the bunkers! They also loved the heated pool and hot tub at the house and we spent almost every evening swimming around. The second house was located in Del Mar, California, which is located just down the road from the Farmers Insurance Open at the infamous Torrey Pines Golf Course. This home was nice as well and the amenities were certainly a welcomed sight. The basketball goal, playground/fort, and trampoline were high priorities on my kids list each and every day. I lowered the goal for Jake and we spent hours outside in the driveway. Libby raised havoc on the playground and loved being chased as she scurried her little legs up and down the slides. My involvement with the last amenity would have worried the heck out of most over protective parents. A good ol' fashion trampoline…wow…I can see their faces now! I cannot remember the last time I climbed my old body up on a trampoline but one thing is for sure…I was certainly thankful that it had the protective walls wrapped around it! So, as Larry Munson used to say as he described the scene before every opening kickoff at UGA football games…."Get the picture!" Libby and Jake would lay on their back as their 6'3 205 pound father would jump up and down beside them. The sound of their laughs and cackles were priceless and yes…I didn't take it too easy on them. I will be the first to admit that I probably went a little overboard with the perfected double spring technique that I learned as a kid! Needless to say, they loved it. Their little bodies would flip and flop all over the place and regardless of how many times their Mommy told the over-grown man in charge of the aerial acrobatics to stop…they begged for more! We had a blast and thankfully, my little monkeys are going to be tough! Libby is something else and she is definitely going to be one tough cookie! Jake knows that his only option is to be tough and his Daddy constantly makes sure of it!

As far as the golf was concerned, there were definitely some positives to take away from the mediocre finishes of the last three weeks. Barry (my caddy) and I are getting more and more comfortable each and every week. His personality is very similar to mine and we have a lot in common. I am expecting great things throughout the season. My winter rust is fading with each and every week. I continue to have spurts where my game resembles a PGA Tour player but unfortunately an uninvited high handicapper shows his face from time to time. Hopefully the hard work and time that I continue to pour into my game will prevail as time progresses.

For those of you that don't know, the Humana Challenge is a Pro-Am format that matches two Professionals with two Amateurs. I was fortunate enough to have movie celebrity Lucas Black as my partner during Round One. Sling Blade, The Fast and the Furious, Friday Night Lights, and Seven Days in Utopia are just a few of his film accomplishments. We had a great time and instantly bonded due to our hunting and fishing background. Lucas currently lives in Missouri but was born and raised in Alabama. The only fault that I found in Lucas was his love for the Alabama Crimson Tide. I eventually gave him a pass due to the fact that my beloved Georgia Bulldogs haven't preformed up to their level lately. Hopefully my crew from Athens will turn things around and I will have the bragging rights over Lucas and our bordering state to the west! On Sunday, the Amateurs exited the tournament and the pairings went back to a grouping of three Professionals. I was once again dealt an interesting tee time and it was an honor and privilege to play with my good friend Jason Bohn and newly inducted PGA Tour Hall of Fame member, Phil Mickelson. The three of us were miles behind the leaders according to the scoreboard but the fans didn't care. Thousands of people lined the fairways as we made our way along the Palmer course at PGA West. This was my first pairing with Phil and due to the abundance of rust on my game, I was anxious to see how well my swing would hold up. Thankfully, I didn't embarrass myself despite having a faulty putter during the round. A respectable round of two under par gave me hope that bright things were on the horizon. My score would have been much lower but wasted shots around the green proved to be the difference. I certainly learned from the experience and I cannot wait to battle again with Phil sometime in the near future. Hopefully next time, our names will be a little closer to the top of the Leader Board!!

As I mentioned earlier, my next tournament was held just outside of San Diego along the beautiful shores of Torrey Pines.. Another made cut was welcomed but the story of the week involved my visit to the Titleist Performance Facility on Wednesday morning. For those of you that don't know, Titleist is the #1 ball in golf and for good reason. Traditionally, they introduce a new golf ball to the public every two years. Every ball is different and the difference is certainly noticeable to those of us that play golf everyday. They make an amazing product and since Titleist is a performance driven company, they give Tour players several options to chose from. We are not limited to the current ball that most of you see in each and every pro shop around the world. They want us to play the ball that suits our game regardless of its introductory date. That was of course, until this year! Since 2005, I have played the 2005 Titleist Pro V1x and for good reason. As a player who creates a lot of spin, the 05x is a perfect fit. It is a lower flighted golf ball that has a limited amount of spin. Since Titleist doesn't offer this ball to the public anymore, they cannot make a profit on its production. Therefore, they decided to eliminate the 2005 Pro V1 line of golf balls from their inventory. I certainly wasn't happy with their decision but I understood the reasoning. So, on Wednesday morning I made my way to their incredible Facility with an open mind. I was excited to test their other golf balls under the watchful eye of the Titleist experts. Unfortunately, the numbers were drastically different. The 05x outperformed the other balls with my current equipment and as you can imagine, this was a little worrisome. Equipment change is never easy, especially when you are in the middle of a season. However, I trusted the knowledge and opinions of the Titleist experts and we kept testing until we found a solution. Eventually, every club in my bag needed to be changed to accommodate the new golf ball. A shaft change was mandatory in my irons along with a new 3 wood and Driver. The numbers greatly improved after the change and my new golf ball of choice is the 2009 Pro V1x. My clubs are still and will always be TaylorMade products and my 3 wood and Driver are members of the new RBZ / Rocketballz line. They are extremely good clubs and I am excited to try everything out this coming week.

Last week I made my third cut of the year (out of four tournaments) at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This was certainly an accomplishment because the tournament at TPC Scottsdale has been the culprit of two missed cuts during each of the last two years (both by one shot!). Even though the weekend didn't go as planned, it was still a success. I continued to knock off the rust and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully some of you were able to witness the craziness that has become known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The infamous 16th hole is a short par 3 surrounded by stands to create a coliseum effect. Estimations of crowd size for that particular hole were well above 50,000 people each day! In fact, Saturday's attendance for the entire property was over 171,000! Think about that…Sanford Stadium, home of the University of Georgia Football Team, holds just under 93,000 fans and 171,000 people attended a golf tournament in one day! Amazing. The roars and Boo's (yes...Boo's...if you miss the green on hole 16 the crowds Boo's you as loud as they can!) were deafening around the course all week. I was amazed at how many people were positioned on every hole throughout the course, let alone the 16th. Fortunately, I managed only one Boo for the week and I was very thankful. Hopefully next year I will make a few more birdies leading up the 16th and my good play on that hole will be even more rewarding.

This week I am at one of my favorite places in the world….Pebble Beach. The views here are breathtaking and I welcome each of you to attend this area at least one time in your life. You will certainly not be disappointed. As mentioned earlier, I am introducing a new golf ball and Driver to my bag (I have had the new Rocketballz 3 wood since Hawaii). Hopefully they will behave and my week will be a success. In 2010, I finished in a tie for 10th place at this event and if any putts had fallen during the week, I might have been holding up the trophy on Sunday. Maybe this year will be the year! This tournament is once again played in a Pro-Am format and I am paired with my good friend and partner from last year, Mr. Jim Crane. He recently fulfilled a lifetime dream of his by purchasing the Houston Astros and I am exited to spend the next few days by his side. NBA Hall of Fame Member Clyde Drexler is the other Amateur in my group. This will certainly be an honor to play with both of them and I cannot wait to get started in the morning. Please tune in to the Golf Channel and CBS throughout the rest of the week…you will be amazed at the views! Hopefully while you are mesmerized by the scenery, you will catch a glimpse or two of a South Georgia Redneck playing some decent golf!