Hope everyone got a chance to see the PGA Championship this weekend. Brooks played great.. was a lot of fun to watch his dominance.
During the event – many times the commentators referred to the last time Tiger was beat in the final round of a PGA Championship (’09 PGA at Hazeltine Golf Club) in Minnesota. Brought back a lot of memories as I was the first alternate for that event… Thought I’d reprint an article I wrote about the tournament I played to qualify for that PGA Championship.
(Reprint from July ’09):
Many of you may have seen me this past week (on the golf channel) – or may have heard about my “exploits” at the PGA National Club Professional Championship. I first want to thank all those who sent emails, phone calls and/or text messages to me during and after the event (when I walked off the course on Wednesday I had over 50 text messages and when I turned on my computer that night – over 200 emails about the tournament) – you will never know how much the support is appreciated – thank you very much!!
For those that didn’t see my tournament or didn’t hear about my experience, though I’d share some details and hopefully going through my story will help your golf and game.
First, the Tournament was the PGA National Club Professional Championship.
Held annually at different locations across the U.S. – it starts with sectional qualifiers for the 35,000 PGA Class A professionals.
There are 41 sections and the 35,000 professionals qualify for 300 spots (typically each section has 5 to 7 places). I trained last September for this year’s tournament.
The 300+ finalists tee it up at two different courses (at one location). This year it was at Twin Warriors Golf Course in Albuquerque, NM (Twin Warriors Golf Course and Santa Anna Golf Course).
Before I get to details – want to add one more… I had an INCREDIBLE caddie. I was assigned to a young man, Tim Madigan from Albuquerque, NM. Plays golf for New Mexico State and it a great golfer himself. He has won numerous events in NM and on Twin Warriors and was my “guide” for the week. (Tim was assigned to me because of my connections to Twin Warriors – knowing one of our alumni Court Koontz helped. He is a long time player at Twin Warriors and good friend of the tournament’s caddie master. Nice to have connections!!)
Now on to details….
I teed off Sunday morning at 7 am on Santa Anna Golf Course. I was the first player to tee off in the tournament. The only issue was it was blowing 40+ mph. It was one of the windiest days I have ever teed it up – and that is saying something when you grew up playing in Oklahoma. The greens were so fast, and it was so windy, I literally couldn’t keep a ball on the chipping green during practice. I would chip to the hole, would roll back toward me off the green… I kept thinking to myself – it’s going to be a long/tough day….
As I approached the first tee (coming off the range) I told my caddie, my primary goal today was to keep the ball down and not get into too much trouble…. I knew there would be a few if not a lot of errant shots that day, I just wanted to limit the “high numbers.” I knew parts would be great and bogies wouldn’t hurt too much bigger numbers would… so I wanted to .just keep the ball “down” and in play.
I went through the day keeping the ball low and playing “relatively conservative” for the wind/weather. I finished the day with a 74.
The problem was, as I walked off the course (literally as I was walking down # 18), it started to rain for about a 1/2 hour, and then the wind completely stopped. Went from blowing 40+ to rain to no wind at all. One half the field was able to play in good to excellent conditions. I knew I’d be behind the “8 balls” after the first day… but there is NOTHING you can do about mother nature…. sometimes you get the breaks sometimes you don’t….
After day #1, I was in the middle of the pack (around the 130th place I believe…)
(One of my golf buddies, a great golfer also qualified and played the first day. The problem is he is pretty tall and has a decidedly upward swing meaning he hits the ball very high, he shot an 84 the first day and shot himself out of the tournament due to his ball flight.
Lesson #1 – Not only do you need to know where the ball is going, but you also need to know how to control your trajectory. “Towards is not everything, Towards and controlling height/flight is….”
Day #2 – I teed off at Noon on Twin Warriors Golf Course. Was a perfect golf day the entire day. (To be honest, I was hoping it would be windy again the ENTIRE day so that I could make up a few strokes… much easier to make up strokes in adverse conditions, but you get what you get.
I knew the 2nd day I would have to shoot a few under (at least) to cut. The cut in the tournament after the 2nd day is the top 70 players and ties.
I told my caddie (Tim) we were going to take the TLC approach that day (in fact, I assume that approach any time the “nerves” start to take over… I try to simplify it as much as possible.)
My caddie looked at me like I was crazy – not sure what he thought I meant by TLC, so I explained.
My TLC approach stands for the following:
T – Target off the tee – Hit at a target off the tee (could be a tree, rock, spot in fairway… something particular)
L – Line – Hit your approach shot on the best line possible. Do the work – figuring yardage, wind, etc.… but ultimately my responsibility was to hit the ball on the best LINE possible.
C – Chance – Give every putt a chance… a good opportunity. Don’t take any for granted and don’t ever give up on any putt, give them all a chance.
I told my caddie if I could stick to this game plan no matter what the shot – I would simplify my game – allow me to play one shot at a time and not get ahead of myself… would help me stay within the moment and shot.
Day 2 started pretty well – I birdied the first three holes… I was told they took some highlights of my round after the early three birdies on the Golf Channel… I ended up shooting four under on the front nine.
My 10th hole (a 560-yard par 5) – was the “make it or break it” point in the round….
I teed off and pulled a driver a little left. It ended up on the lip of a bunker – in which I had to stand about 3 feet below the ball (in the bin with the ball out) – had to swing at the ball like a baseball bat…. The problem was I had to advance the ball 120+ yards to carry over the desert and to the fairway. I chose a seven iron, swung at the ball and proceeded to shank the ball sideways about 150 yards into the desert. The ball went over the forecaddies head, and she never saw it. She just warned me of all the rattlesnakes I was about to encounter looking for the golf ball…. I found the ball WAY in the desert, a place where very few have been… ever Not good.
I asked my caddie for yardage – he response was “You’re kidding me right” – that’s how offline I was…. finally, he came back to me with a 230-yard guess…. but I had no idea where the green was… couldn’t see it. So, I asked my caddie for a line. He told me where to hit it, I ran a four iron over the target and hoped for the best….
As I approached the green, one of the gentlemen in the gallery had to tell us where the ball went – it had buried in 6 inches sharp left of the green. I “crawled” into the rough, hit a great flop shot which proceeded to hit the edge of the fringe and roll 30 feet past the pin… I looked at my caddie and said “This is never going to end” – he laughed. I got over my 30-foot putt, thought to myself “give it a chance” – hit the putt and guess what – it went dead center – for a par 5. Probably the most dramatic and most “sideways” par I have ever made….
I have to say, I made five birdies on the front 9, but that par meant more to me about the round…. NEVER say done… NEVER!!
As I approached my 17th hole, I was six under. The 17th hole is a 490-yard par 4 – by far the hardest driving hole on the course. I hit a good drive but didn’t carry it far enough. I buried in waist-high grass on the top lip of a fairway bunker.
As I approached the shot, I told my caddie I was going to take an “unplayable” lie and give myself the best chance at a five on the hole…. he disagreed. He thought I should try and hit the ball and see if I could advance a little… I weighed the risks and thought to myself – would instead take a shot penalty and guarantee a decent 2nd shot vs. take the gamble….
I dropped and was 250 yards (uphill) from the green. I hit a good fairway wood but went left of the green – again in 6 inches rough. Crawled into the rough again – hit a flop shot to about 3 feet and made the putt for a 5. As I told my caddie – bogies NEVER kill, others DO!!
I ended up parring the final hole for a 66 (was told competitive course record at the time). I moved up over 120 spots to a tie for 8th after the 2nd day. (BTW – I was told I had 23 putts on day #2…)
Lesson # 2 – Most of the time it isn’t the birdies that make around, it is limiting the bad holes to bogies (or pars) rather than others. It is effortless to make up for a bogey but not so easy to make up for others.
The third day was on Twin Warriors again. The third day was why we use the single axis swing…. I didn’t putt well (one of those days.) but it all but two fairways and 16 greens. I shot 72. I played with two other very good players who swings didn’t hold up and shot themselves out of the tournament…. I kept using the TLC approach and kept myself in the game even though the putts didn’t’ seem to fall…. After the 3rd day, I was in a tie for 18th place.
Lesson # 3 – Develop a swing that will “keep you in the game” … even if you’re not putting well, you will still be in the game.
Finally, it was the 4th (and final) day, also at Twin Warriors. I told my caddie we were going to use the same TLC philosophy we had used all week and tried and keep as “calm” and “slow” as possible… not get ahead of ourselves, not think about the future, etc.… (you’ll know why in a second)
What I haven’t mentioned yet and you might not know it is the top 20 in the field qualify for the PGA Championship. Yes, if you finish in the top 20, you will be teeing it up in August with Tiger (this year at Hazeltine GC in Chaska, MN).
It would be straightforward to think ahead and start choking. I wanted to avoid that at all costs… I’ll give you a “little secret I use” to help myself… when I start to think ahead, I was once told by a sports psychologist to imagine a stop sign in my head – and say to myself – STOP…. nothing you can do about future shots… Stop getting ahead of yourself.
I teed up in front of a pretty good crowd. Many alumni and others supporting me one traveled over 1,000 miles to see my last round (thanks Tom..).
I played okay for the first 14 holes, was one under. Played pretty well when thinking about pin positions, conditions, pressure, etc. played solid.
I then 3 putt 15 (missed a shot putt) – but came back with a great birdie on 16.
On number 17, my drive rolled about a foot into the thick rough, and I could only advance to the front of the green. I bogeyed the hole – probably more of pressure issue vs. hard shot…
Then it was Number 18. By far the hardest finishing hole I have played in a long time. 500-yard par 4 with bunkers on both sides of the fairway – and very high rough on either side. I watched many double bogies++ on the hole the previous two days…. My two playing partners hit fairway woods off the tee to about 210 to the gap…. we figured I needed a birdie to “guarantee” spot, par maybe…. I was going to hit a fairway wood. My caddie looked at me and asked me this question “Do you trust yourself… I do…. hit the driver.” So I did… hit is 320 down the middle of the fairway – perfect shot!
My second shot was 174 yards to the pin – pin tucked top right of green behind the bunker. I got over the chance, my heart was coming out of my chest, and I told my caddie – “you give me the club, I’ll give you the line.” I hit an eight iron to 20 feet above the hole – was one of the best shots I have hit (ever) under the circumstances…. couldn’t have pictured it better!
We got to the putt 18 feet above the hole – 6 inch right to left break. (Was told I was live on Golf Channel now…) We lined up the putt, and my caddie told me. “Give it a chance… like we have all week. Confident stroke, make sure when you leave the green you can say to yourself you gave it a chance”. I hit the putt – many of you probably saw it on TV – 2 feet from the hole it was a dead center – my hand went up – thought I made it…. it lipped out to the right – in fact, from my view it went into the hole and out….
I finished two under for the tournament – and in a tie for 16th place. If the putt would have gone in, would have finished 10th.
Come to find out, there were eight that tied for 16th place, so after 2 1/2 hours of waiting, there was an 8 man playoff for five spots to go to the PGA Championship.
Was live on the Golf Channel (8 man playoff for five spots), felt like the Big Break.
I hit a high drive off the first tee, hit my target, but bounced right into the rough… not much of a shot into the green from the rough hacked a seven iron into the front bunker. Had a tough 25-yard bunker shot and hit it about 35 feet past the hole. There were going to be at least five pars on the shaft – so I knew if I made bogey I was out… I got over the putt and made it… was told it was very dramatic…. Gallery yelled, and I have a lot watching the Golf Channel a “heart attack” ….. All I know is I took the ball out of the hole, was walking to the next tee and Donna Capone (Golf Channel Announcer) grabbed me a hugged me… she was pretty excited.
I hit a good iron off the next tee (short lay-up par 4) and had 122 yards into the hole. The pin was center of green with ridge left and behind the hole. The problem was I had mud on the right side of my golf ball… thought would come off when hit…. I hit a gap wedge (easy) and pulled the shot… the ball went left, and I ran too far left over the ridge in the green. I proceeded to 3 putts the green (hit first putt a little hard – nerves I guess) and made bogey… there were five pars or birdies on the hole. I was out… First alternate in the PGA.
So, very long story make short….35,000 PGA professionals to the first alternate in the PGA…. if one of the top 20 can’t make it, I’ll be there with Todd (he’ll be loopin’ for me) – trust me we’ll have a blast….
The last Lesson you never know, especially in this game. Always give yourself a chance. Even when you think you are entirely out of a hole or round, you never know. This is a FUNNY game – you NEVER know….
Hope my story didn’t bore too many and hopefully, it can teach or help you with your golf games. Again – to all those who called, emailed, sent texts – I thank you VERY much – they were greatly appreciated and even after a couple of nights of reliving that pulled wedge over and over again in my head – made this golfer feel A LOT better!!!