Like many young people, I was not sure what I wanted to do after college. I had spent the majority of my energy into my future bowling career. I had played in many tournaments with decent success. I played at the NCAA National Championship, representing Michigan State, and bowled fairly well. However, deep down, I didn’t feel like it was something I could make a living at.
This feeling led me to golf. Here was a game that was full of fairness and was challenging. Two things I really liked and wanted. That summer, I played a lot of golf and improved quickly. At some point, I decided to pursue golf as a career. Like everyone that makes this choice, I wanted to play golf for a living. I had no idea how far away I was from being competitive enough to make a living at it. My progress was so fast, I assumed it would continue until I was shooting under par at will.
I still had not played in a single tournament because I didn’t think I was good enough. I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer, so I signed up to take the P.A.T.(PGA’s Playing Ability Test). I was still an amateur and planned on remaining an amateur after the tournament. I had a whole summer of local amateur events I wanted to play in. In my infinite wisdom, I chose the PAT to my first try at competitve golf. I thought it was a good fit because I was playing against a target score instead of playing against others.
The PAT was held at Old Hickory, a very open golf course in Livonia. I went down and practiced many times, created a yardage book for myself and talked to people to gain some local knowledge. I was ready.
The target score for passing was 152. I was going to have to play very well, for me, in order to pass. I was confident I could pass because the course was not very long and hardly a tree on the course. I could hit it anywhere and have a shot to the green.
I don’t remember what I shot the first round but I know it was low enough to still have a chance to make it. After the 3rd nine holes, I was still in it. I was only two shots above the target score. I would need to play the last 9 at 2 under to make it. Something I had never done before but I still thought it was possible.
Number 10 is a shortish par 5. I knock it near the green in two and get up and down for birdie. Number 11 is a long par 3 with water right. I purposely hit it left and got up and down. At this point in my golf life, I was a par machine. I would make a ton of pars. Lots of fairways and greens and a pretty conservative player. I’m thinking to my self, I need to make another birdie to make it. I par 12, 13 and 14. Still 1 under. Hit it on the green on 15 about 60 feet away and above the hole. Not a good place to be. I try to lag it down somewhere near the hole and it falls in. A bomb! I never made bombs. I couldn’t believe it.
Now, I’m in full protect mode. Three holes to go and all I need is three pars. Not a tree insight and 3 short par 4′s to go. 16 is a downhill par four with a creek in front and a front pin. I know not to be too aggressive. Just hit it to the middle of the green and two putts. I hit a good drive with a pitching wedge away. Ok John just get it over the water and somewhere on the green. Of course, I chunk it! I’m watching this wounded duck float through the air and it barely carries the creek and sits on the bank. Looked just like Freddie Couples on the 12th when he won the Masters. I get up there quickly and get it up and down.
Two holes and two pars to go. No trees, no water to contend with. I hit a good drive up the right side. Second shot is uphill so you can’t see the ball land. I hit a 9 iron right at the flag. I’m walking up the hill thinking I just stuffed it and should have an easy par or another good chance for birdie. I get up there and it’s 20 feet above the hole. Damn, I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I hit a REAL tentative putt and leave it 6 feet above the hole. Miss it! Now, I have to birdie the last hole to make it.
Birdie to win. Just like I practiced a hundred times on the course and in my head. I get up and hit my drive so far to the right I was shocked. It was so far right it could actually be in trouble by the clubhouse. I go find it and it’s ok. I still have a shot at the green and a wedge in my hand. I knock it on the green about 20 feet away. Here we are, one putt to pass or two putts to fail. I starred at the putt and couldn’t decide how much it was going to break. Now, it’s my turn and I still haven’t decided. I aim at something and leave it about 3 feet short and way low. Missed by one.
So, what did I learn. No question that the ball goes farther when you are pumped up. I had never been in that situation before and I know that shot on 17 had to do with this. You’ve got to be patient with your swing when you add pressure to it. My swing on the 18th tee was so short and quick, I’m surprised I even hit it. My putt on 18 was indecisive and it showed. You have to believe with every bit of your soul that you have chosen the best line for the speed you intend to give it.
The whole back nine, I was attacking the golf course until I birdied 15. As soon as that happened, I stopped attacking and started playing defense. My thoughts were so positive and committed until that birdie and after it they were all about damage control. Just hold on was my mantra. This thinking does not work. It was the same with bowling. I had always done very well when I needed to strike out to win and not as good when I needed to strike out to shut my opponent out.
The mental part of golf is a window into the soul. It will show you your true belief in your ability. Use this to your advantage and keep attacking.