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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Beach, Olives, and the Snake Pit...

Is it still considered work when your office is located on an Island? The beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico served as my “office” a couple of weeks ago and I will be the first to admit that I am very blessed. The calmness and peaceful feeling that I experience on week’s like this are truly special. The sight and sounds of waves crashing in the background made for quite an enjoyable week while the enormous palm trees, exotic birds, and crystal clear water only added to the beauty of the island. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit such beautiful places on this earth and I am very blessed that my job allows my “office” to be 85 degrees with sunny skies, beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, and a million other great things!

Beth and our good friends Bruce (Ope) and Melissa Kelly flew down to the sunny shores of Puerto Rico on Wednesday. We had a great time and we really enjoyed eating at several of the local restaurants that the island had to offer. Mofongo and Plantain were popular meals throughout the week along with fresh fish. We spent our afternoons watching the waves gently roll in toward our lawn chairs as the sun slowly disappeared along the ocean line in the distance. Yes...I am very blessed.

One of the local restaurants that we ate at twice during the week is a place called Richie’s. It sits atop a small mountainside and overlooks the ocean. During one night at dinner, Jeff Overton and his girlfriend joined us and Jeff ordered the Special on the menu...Red Snapper with Plantain. It looked really good and after I told my Physical Rehab guys the next morning about our experience they decided to go that evening. They both ordered the same Red Snapper Special that sat on Jeff’s plate the night before and quickly decided to play a joke on their Golf Channel friends sitting at the table with them. The presentation of the ENTIRE Red Snapper on their plate was incredible and for obvious reasons, the cook replaced the eyeballs with Olives. Well, one of my regular Rehab guys is from South Africa and he (jokingly) told the table how much his culture loved to eat Fish eyeballs. They all believed him and he immediately reached down and put the Olive (fake eyeball) in his mouth. The table almost lost their supper! They obviously had no clue and didn’t realize that it was only an Olive. A few seconds later, my other Rehab guy (who is American) said he “would be tough and partake in the culture.” He was obviously in on the joke and grabbed his Olive from the Red Snapper. The South African said, “Come on, it’s easy. Here I will eat the other one first to show you.” He ate the Olive as the table looked in astonishment. The American put his Olive in his mouth and the table couldn’t believe it. All of sudden, his face turned really pale...WHY you ask?? Well, his Olive was not an was indeed an EYEBALL!

Just like any tournament, there were both positives and negatives from the Puerto Rico Open. The positives definitely outweighed the negatives and my Tie for 9th place finish echos this statement. I can proudly and honestly say that I played the entire event pain free! What an amazing feeling! The shot obviously worked and my Rehab guys continue to do a great job on my body. Our daily two hours sessions have paid huge dividends and hopefully our tireless work will keep my body feeling this way for a long, long time. Putting was once again a major obstacle for me and I am not sure why. Last year, I finished the season 13th on Tour in Putting...Not Bad. However, this year my results and statistics have been less than stellar. During the Puerto Rico Open, I had 7 three putts and missed a ton of short putts. Sure, the greens were extremely grainy but there will NEVER be an excuse worthy of 7 three putts. In fact, I probably didn’t have 7 three putts during my entire 2011 season!! I lost the tournament by 6 shots and was 4 shots out of you do the math. The good news is that I played well enough to win. I was solid from tee to green and I was pain free. Hopefully the putts will fall in the coming weeks and my name will be on TOP of the leader board.

The kids joined Beth and I for the Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor/Tampa, Florida, at the incredible Innisbrook Resort. Practice went extremely well leading up to the First Round. Kenny Perry and I played on Tuesday alongside good friends Scott Stallings (2011 Greenbrier Classic Champion) and Scott Brown. As in most practice rounds on the PGA Tour, a friendly wager took place within our group as the Old Men faced off against the Young Kids. Kenny and I took the lead after the first hole and never looked back. In fact, the young bucks never had the “Honors” on the tee box which meant that they never won a hole! As we walked to the 18th tee, Kenny and I once again had the tee and the Kids were dejected and beat down. Their wallets were hurting and they bravely decided to go “All in.” Kenny and I both hit the Fairway while BOTH of our competitors found the trees on the right. The Old Men hit the green and we faced two very makable 25 foot birdie putts. Scott Brown missed the green long and left and faced a very difficult chip. Now, their only hope was Ol Mr Greenbrier! Well, regardless of how many poor shots Team Young Bucks had hit over the previous 17 holes, Stallings dug down deep and hit an INCREDIBLE shot to about 6 feet! After Kenny and I both rolled our birdie putts over the edge of the cup, the stage was set for Stallings. He had two choices...miss the putt and continue the trend and BEATDOWN that his team had faced all day OR make the putt and erase all the humiliation of never winning a hole! Well...the little punk make the putt and changed the whole outcome of the match! What a joke and a bunch of bull!! HaHa. The Old Men put on a clinic but walked away with nothing to show for the massacre. Oh well...a rematch has already been rescheduled!

When Thursday rolled around, I was excited about the state of my game. My body felt great, my swing felt effortless, and the ball was going exactly where I was aiming. I knew that if I could hole a few putts then I would probably be in the mix come Sunday. Well unfortunately, things quickly unraveled. After missing four putts inside six feet over my first twelve holes, I got frustrated and aggravated. This was unusual for me because I normally do a good job of letting things go. However, this day was different. I let the missed opportunities on the greens change my game plan from a smart and well thought out attack to an overly aggressive and mindless press. Usually when this occurs the golf course wins....and on Thursday it did! I shot 75 and walked away extremely dejected. I hit the ball way too good to shot over par however I let my emotions take over. I vowed to not let this happen again and on Friday, I rallied the troops and attempted to make the cut from a million miles outside the cut line. Sure I missed some putts along the way but I didn’t let things bother me. In fact, as I reached the treacherous 16th hole (which begins a challenging three hole stretch nicknamed the Snake Pit), I had the Low Round of the Day going at 5 under par. I was inside the cut line as well but I had a difficult challenge ahead. My adrenaline was high and like most players in the field, I hit 3wood off the tee to cover the water along the right side of the fairway. When the ball left the club face, I knew that I had struck it extremely well and its path was on a good line. However, what I didn’t know was that I was about to hit a 304 yard 3wood (according to ShotTracker)!! Unfortunately, my ball bounced through the fairway and came to rest DIRECTLY up against a tree. I was TOAST!! I fumbled around the hole a bit and finally tapped in for a crowd pleasing Double Bogey. Game Over! I pared the last two holes of the Snake Pit but my mishap on 16 cost me a weekend tee time. Another missed cut and another disappointment.

I took last week off and things couldn’t have been better. Time with the family is always special and the convenience of having a green in the backyard is priceless. I worked long hours on my putting and chipping in hopes of making a run at this week’s Shell Houston Open. I am excited about the week ahead and as usual, if a few putts can fall, good things will happen. I am staying with my good friend and Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane again this year. The week has already been amazing and next week’s blog will have some good stories. I know great things are ahead in terms of Golf and a win this week would secure me a tee time in next week’s PGA Tour event....The Masters!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Welcome Back Ol' Faithful.....

The experiments are officially over!  After months of working with various drivers and golf balls, I have decided to go back to the equipment that secured my card rather easily last year.  Go can say it...why would I change in the first place?  Well, due to contract obligations I am required to give new equipment "my best effort" as it becomes available.  I have always been a huge supporter of the equipment companies that I represent and their advancements in technology.  However, I will be the first to admit that I need to do a better job of getting comfortable and trusting the new equipment before I put it in the bag.  With that being said, over the last three tournaments I have used three different drivers which in my opinion, have been the culprit to three consecutive missed cuts.  Missed fairways have been the norm lately and my time away from the short grass has lead to an increase in missed greens.  Obviously when you add these two factors together a golfer's work week is cut short!  I have also been experimenting with a different golf ball and the results have been less than satisfactory.  The bad news is that I will eventually have to make a golf ball switch because Titleist has decided to stop  manufacturing my ball of choice (2005 Pro V1x).  However for now, I will continue to use the stock pile of balls that I have until they run out.

There is good news however.  During Friday's round at the Honda Classic I truly believe that I made two major strides.  First of all, I finally trusted my hip and I was able to turn without restriction or limitation.   This was a huge development because during Thursday's opening round, my mind and body wouldn't quite allow my hip move freely.  I had a pinch in my left hip during the first round and I basically played scared and protective.  I eased into all my shots and as my first round score indicated, this was a recipe for disaster.  After my round, I made my normal trip to the rehab trailer and spent over an hour on the table.  The trainers worked tirelessly to help remove the pinch from my hip.  They assured me that regardless of what I was feeling, the cortisone and "greaser" shot was definitely a success.  I had an increased range of motion and on Friday, I was finally able to reap the benefits.  I played pain free and my ball striking was much better.  The second stride that I made on Friday was a reunion with my old TaylorMade R11 Driver.  I took the club out of my bag following its lackluster performance in Phoenix.  Even though I was fresh off a run of several made cuts in a row, I made the change following the Waste Management Phoenix Open because I felt my driver was the culprit for my mediocre finishes on the West Coast.  This obviously wasn't the case.  Since the change, my driving stats got worse and I missed three cuts in a row.  On Friday, I put Ol' Faithful back in the bag and I only missed one fairway with it during the round.  My score of 68 was a welcomed site and if a few putts had fallen, it would have been much, much lower.  Regardless, I am glad that I made the switch and I certainly enjoyed being back in the short grass!

Last week during the Honda Classic, Beth and I rented a house in a neighborhood just down the road from PGA National.  The homes inside the gated community were enormous and many celebrities such as Tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams lived just down the road from our rented house for the week.  Our place was nice and we really enjoyed how close it was to my Tournament site.  As I put Libby down one afternoon for her nap, I stumbled upon one of the coolest things that I have ever seen!  In the office of our rented home, the owner had three baseballs proudly on display.  All three were very impressive and as I made my way down the line, my jaw began to drop.  The first name was Yankee Legend, Joe DiMaggio...very impressive!  The second name was another Yankee Legend, Micky Mantle...also very impressive!  And the third name? Another Yankee Legend but a signature that I have never seen in person in my entire life.....Babe Ruth!   Seriously....the Babe, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat??!!   Yes, as you can tell....I was impressed.

This week I am Puerto Rico and I am excited about the week ahead.  As I mentioned earlier, Ol' Faithful is back in the bag and my hip feels great.  I have continued my trend of practicing hard every day and I cannot wait for Thursday's round to begin.  I know that good things are on the horizon and my tireless work will shine through.  Who knows...this week could be my week!  We will see.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time Flies When You Are At Home....

I cannot believe how quickly the days flew by last week while I was at home.  In a blink of an eye, it was time to pack my bags and head out on the road.  Fortunately though, I wasn't alone as I said goodbye to the dirt roads of South Georgia.  As my tail lights made their way down the driveway at 5am on Monday morning, my family closed their eyes and began the journey with me to West Palm Beach, Florida, and the Honda Classic.  We boarded a plane in rainy and cold Atlanta, Georgia, and made the short flight to sunny skies and 85 degree temperatures!  Beth and I somehow managed to keep our two extremely active monkeys in check during the flight which I will be the first to admit...wasn't an easy task.  I definitely don't see how Beth does it alone!  God Bless her!

On Wednesday of last week, I headed north and met with the Orthopedic Doctors that work directly with the University of Georgia and their athletes.  They took some x-rays and injected my left hip with cortisone and a "greaser" to help lubricate my joint capsule.  I limped around the house for a couple of days due to the increased fluid in my hip and finally gave it a test run on Friday.  Fortunately, I didn't have to travel very far to practice!  Jake and I walked out the back door and hit balls for a couple of hours on the green at my house.  My hip felt pretty good and actually got better and better as the weekend progressed.  When I met my caddy Barry on Monday afternoon in Florida, I was able to turn on my left hip with ease.  My speed through the ball had returned and everything felt great.  In fact, my hip turn was so fluid that my swing felt out of sorts and different.  My body had become used to the restricted feeling in my left hip and I didn't realize how bad it had gotten.  In fact, I now realize that I made a mistake this past winter.  Last year, I received two shots of cortisone due to pain and stiffness in my left hip.  My plan was to get an injection prior to this season but due to the minimal pain I was feeling, I decided to wait.  Obviously, this was a mistake.  I played the entire west coast on a hip that was extremely restricted and because it didn't hurt all the time, I thought I was fine.  This obviously wasn't the case and I can chalk it up to a lesson learned.  Note to have a 2x4 of a left hip and until you have surgery, please continue to get regular cortisone shots regardless of how well you THINK you feel!

I played on Tuesday with one of my normal practice round partners, Kenny Perry.  Fresh off his Champions Tour victory of five shots, I spent the afternoon picking his brain on his latest win.  He has always been very kind and generous to me and I cannot not tell you how extremely blessed I am to have him as a good friend.  The insight and knowledge that he has provided me over the last three years has been incredible.  I am very lucky to have someone who is so willing to give advice each and every week. Hopefully one day, I will put all his knowledge to good use!!

We will see how my swing reacts to a fluid hip this week.  I know my best golf is ahead and my timing and rhythm will return.  Last year, it took a week or two my shots to finally trust myself and swing freely. This week's tournament at PGA National is a tremendous test.  The rough is high and the winds swirl on every hole.  The infamous Bear Trap (holes 15-18) serve as a land mine and can dismantle a good round in seconds.  I have high expectations this week and I am excited to get started.  Regardless of what happens, I know that my hip is pain free and unrestricted!  Hopefully my mind will trust that my hip is ok and I can play carefree for the first time in a long time.  We will see.