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Monday, August 6, 2012

Two Calls to the Bullpen and My 2nd Major...

Since my last entry, poor putting has continued to plague my golf game.  Two consecutive missed cuts ended a streak of Saturday and Sunday tee times that dated back to April!  The first mishap occurred in Mississippi at the True South Classic.  Scorching temperatures played havoc on both players and caddies…especially the ones in my wave.  After playing only a couple of holes on Thursday afternoon, thunderstorms with heavy rain and lightning forced us off the course.  32 holes were in store for me on Friday and unfortunately my caddy Barry was feeling the heat…literally!  Temperatures near 100 degrees provided little relief and after watching Barry’s health decline as the day progressed, I became very concerned.  After pleading with him for quite a while, I finally was forced to call a medic with five holes remaining.  He was shaking uncontrollably and his face was ghost white.  Bogeys and birdies were the least of my concerns and the cut line quickly became a distant thought.  The medical staff arrived immediately and began working on Barry.  I was forced to continue on to the next hole and luckily, my good friend and former UGA roommate Davis Thomason was walking outside the ropes.  I made the “call to the bullpen” for a relief Caddy and the two of us tried to make enough birdies to play the weekend.  Two birdies during the stretch just weren’t enough as I missed the cut for the first time since April (definitely not a bad run!).  However, like I said earlier, my concerns were definitely on Barry for most of the day and I finally made the decision (against his strong wishes) to shut him down.  It was a very scary situation and after completing my round, I rushed over to the medical tent to check on Barry’s condition.  He was still hooked to IVs but his complexion and overall well being looked better.  I cannot thank the medical staff enough for their thorough care…not only for Barry but also for the other 10-12 guys that “fell out” during Friday’s scorching marathon.  In times like that, Golf definitely becomes secondary.

After a disappointing week on the golf course in Mississippi, I flew to Toronto, Ontario for this year’s RBC Canadian Open at Hamilton Golf & Country Club.  I sent Barry home for the week so he could get his health turned around and in shape for the rest of the year.  I went to the “bullpen” yet again but this time I brought in my swing instructor, John Tillery.  We both viewed our week together as a great opportunity to fine tune things before the FedEx Playoffs as well as a chance to lock up a spot in this year’s PGA Championship.  With the end of the season right around the corner, it is imperative that I am sharp during the Playoffs and playing my best.  I have certainly been close to some pretty special things over the past few months but for one reason or another, things haven’t quite gone my way in the end.  JT and I set out to make sure that when August arrived, that I would be pumping on all cylinders.  Hard work was once again the theme in Canada…not only at the course but also at the home we had for the week.  My good friend, Don Schroeder, lives in Burlington, Ontario, (just 20 minutes from Hamilton Golf & Country Club) and to both of JT’s and my delight, he has a Golf Simulator in his basement.  JT and I spent countless hours every evening hitting balls until we felt satisfied about my swing.  The hard work showed up from tee to green but unfortunately my putter decided to play Houdini yet again.  My second missed cut in a row lead to a short week in Toronto but in hindsight, it was probably a blessing for two reasons!  First, the early exit from Canada allowed me to go home and actually enjoy an off-week.  In fact, Saturday night was only the 7th time that I have slept in my bed since the first week in April (almost 4 months!!).  I cannot tell you how nice it was to be at home with my family.  I practiced everyday on my green behind the house and for the first time in a long, long time, I was able to tuck my kids in their bed. Secondly, by missing the cut in Toronto I didn’t hurt myself as far as my standings were concerned.  I slipped a little in the FedEx and Money List but most importantly, I still qualified FOR MY 2nd MAJOR of the year!

And that brings us to this week...the 4th and final Major of the year.  The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.  In what some are predicting as the toughest PGA Championship test in years, I am excited and ready for the challenge.  This is my first PGA Championship and I will certainly use my U.S. Open experience from earlier this year to help with my preparation.  I arrived to the island on Sunday morning and stayed until dark working on my game.  Monday morning brought a similar work ethic as I was the first player to tee off at 7:15am.  My game plan is simple...fix the putting issues that has ailed me since my putter was accidentally bent five weeks ago and prepare for another U.S. Open type tournament.  The winds are expected to howl thanks in large part to the ocean that sits only a few yards away from the fairways!  The course is in immaculate shape and it should be an extremely tough test of golf.  I fully expect to play well this week and who knows…if my putter behaves, I just might find myself with a late tee time and a chance to win on Sunday.  Redemption from the U.S. Open?  We will see.

This week’s question comes from Erin in Georgia.  She writes:  Blake, Each week you are paired up with different players. How does the PGA decide who you are paired up with and when do they let you know who you are paired with?

Erin, thank you for the email and question.  Players on the PGA Tour are grouped into different categories according to their status.  There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 categories and players can move in and out of different categories depending on their play throughout the year.  For example, I am currently in category #20 (Top 125 on Prior Year’s Official Money List) and during my Rookie year on Tour I was in category #26 (2-25 Nationwide Tour Prior Year/Top 25 & Ties Qualifying Tournament).  Tournament fields begin with category #1 and move downward until their “number” and field size is met.  During the first two rounds, I am paired with members of MY category.  However, after the cut is made on Friday, I am paired with players who are next to me on the leaderboard.  So regardless of category or status, the weekend pairings are an “open market” and I play alongside members of any category.  Tuesday is the answer to the second part of your question in regards to when we receive our pairings for the 1st two rounds.  This is because the Tour waits for the Monday Qualifier to complete and by Tuesday, most players are on site and registered.

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