Hopefully My “Heart Ache” Can Help You…

(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 – thought 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 spots). I qualified last September for this year’s tournament.

The 300+ finalists tee it up at 2 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 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 literally my “guide” for the week. (Tim was assigned to me because of my connections to Twin Warriors – knowing one of our alumni – Court Koontz really 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 7am on Santa Anna Golf Course – in fact 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. In fact, 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 main 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 pars 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.

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 very good conditions. I knew I’d be behind the “8 ball” 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 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 very upright swing – meaning he hits the ball very high… he shot an 84 the first day – 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, you 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 an absolutely perfect golf day the entire day. (To be honest, I was actually hoping it would be windy again the ENTIRE day so 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 make the 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 take 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 very specific)
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 chance. 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 off pretty well – I birdied the first 3 holes… in fact, I was told they took some highlights of my round after the first 3 birdies on the Golf Channel… I ended up shooting 4 under on the front nine.

My 10th hole (a 560 yard par 5) – was definitely 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 bunker with the ball out) – had to swing at the ball like a baseball bat…. Problem was I had to advance the ball 120+ yards to carry over the desert and to the fairway. I chose a 7 iron, swung at the ball and proceeded to shank the ball sideways about 150 yards into the desert. In fact, the ball went over the forecaddy’s head, and she never saw it… she just warned me of all the rattle snakes I was about to encounter looking for the golf ball…. I found the ball WAY in the desert, a place where very few have ever been…. not good.

I asked my caddie for a yardage – he response was “Your kidding me right” – that’s how off line 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 hit a 4 iron over the target and hoped for the best….

As I approached the green, one of the gentleman in the gallery had to tell us where the ball went – it had buried in 6 inch rough 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 5 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 6 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 shot at a 5 on the hole…. he disagreed. He thought I should try and hit the ball and see if I could advance a little… I weighted the risks and thought to myself – would rather 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 inch 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). 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 a round, it is limiting the bad holes to bogies (or pars…) rather than others. It is VERY easy to make up for a bogey… not so easy to make up for others….

The third day was on Twin Warriors again. Third day was why we use the single axis swing…. I didn’t putt well (one of those days.) but hit all but 2 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 try 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 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 Hazaltine GC in Chaska, MN).

Needless to say, it would be very easy to think ahead and start choking…… I wanted to avoid that at all costs… In fact, 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 psycologist to imagine a stop sign in my head – and say to myself – STOP…. nothing you can do about future shots… Stop geting ahead of yourself.

I teed up in front of a pretty good crowd. many alumni and others supporting me, in fact, one traveled over 1,000 miles to see my last round (thanks Tom..).

I played okay for the first 14 holes… was one under. In fact, played pretty well when thinking about pin positions, conditions, pressure, etc. played solid.

I then 3 putted 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 deep rough and I could only advance to the front of the green (in rough). I boogied 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 fairway – and very high rough on either side. I watched many double bogies++ on the hole the previous 2 days…. My two playing partners hit fairway woods off the tee to about 210 to the hole…. we figured I needed 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 shot, 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 8 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 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 2 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 8 that tied for 16th place, so after 2 1/2 hours of waiting, there was a 8 man playoff for 5 spots to go to the PGA Championship.

Was live on the Golf Channel (8 man playoff for 5 spots – felt like the Big Break…).

I hit a great 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 7 iron into the front bunker. Had a very hard 25 yard bunker shot and hit it about 35 feet past the hole. There were going to be at least 5 pars on the hole – 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 was told gave 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. Pin was center of green with ridge left and behind the hole. 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… ball went left and I hit too far left over the ridge in the green. I proceeded to 3 putt the green (hit first putt a little hard – nerves I guess) and make bogey… there were 5 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 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….

Last Lesson – You never know – especially in this game…. always give yourself a chance…. even when you think you are completely 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!!!

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