Here is Part 1 of the story I wrote for GolfWRX a few years back.
If you granted golfers one wish and they could have anything they wanted within the realm of golf, you would likely get a tremendous range of answers.
Some might want to play Pebble, others would want to tee it up at Cypress, and many would want to play with Tiger, while others would want to own a handmade Scotty Cameron. However, my dream was to play in a PGA Tour event and it became a reality in 2001, when I qualified for the PGA Tour’s Genuity Championship, hosted at Doral, in Miami, Florida. This event is now a World Golf Championship. I will attempt to share with you my experiences, the good and bad, how I got into the event, and my week inside the ropes.
Growing up I was a hockey player, having played for almost 15 years. So golf was foreign to me, and was not what you would call a normal sport where I grew up, falling into the game almost on accident. During one of my off seasons, a few of my hockey teammates were going to play and asked if I wanted to go along, I accepted, and the rest is history. I soon fell in love with the game, the challenge and the peacefulness of it, a complete change from the rough, physical, team like aspect of hockey. It was the polar opposite of what I had loved for all of my life, yet I was ensnared by the grasp of this game called golf. I started to play every chance I got during the summer months in New England, and took some lessons along the way, with one of the club pro’s at Winchester Country Club. This is where I found out about the Professional Golfers Career College, and where I would go to school a few years later. After graduating from the golfer’s college, I took a job back in New England at Sky Meadow Country Club, one of the finest golf courses in New Hampshire (formerly the number one ranked course in the state). There I started to play some tournament golf in the New England assistant’s association tournament series. I fared well in some events, and played mediocre in others. It was tough because I knew that I was better than my scores, my golf swing was technically very sound, and I had the mentality of someone who would never give up. One area that was lacking was my putting prowess, and it would be something that would hinder me for most of my professional career. I then moved down to Florida, and this would be the start of my path toward fulfilling a dream that previously was only that, a far fetching dream.
Late in the year of 1997 I started my tenure at PGA National, where I would work as a cart guy, an assistant professional, and ultimately the first assistant. During those years finding the time to play while working full time was a job in and of itself. Anyone who has worked in the industry knows that maintaining your game is a tremendous challenge and one that you must stay on top of, if you want to be competitive. Luckily I loved playing tournament golf, and the club that I worked at had decent privileges for its employees, not to mention there were always games going around if you wanted some action. So this is where I met some of the guys that would help fine tune my game to the point where I would be able to compete at a high level, high enough to qualify for a tour event.
I played in several dozen tournaments over the next few years, winning some, and starting to make a little name for myself down there in Florida. I could shoot a good score at any given time, or I could post a bad round as well. Some of my buddies would be waiting in anticipation to hear of my round after the tournament was over, curious to see if the good Dan or the bad Dan was going to show up that week. It became sort of a joke between me and my closest friends. Luckily I started to get more consistent and post better scores more and more often. I think that this was some of the confidence present close to my qualifying round. A confidence that one needs to perform at a high level, without it you will get steamrolled by the rest of the good players that are out there. I can still remember the practice sessions with my buddies, out there at 6:00 until dark at 8:45, chipping and pitching, trying to hit the broken picker at 85 yards, or hitting drivers to the back of the Haig range (signifying that you caught it!). These were the good times, and there were plenty of good players down there in Florida when I was there. I can remember hitting balls with Briny Baird or Brett Wetterich, who were good friends with my roommate, and asking them questions all the time (this was before either was on tour). Caddying for my roommate that played on the golden bear tour, just to figure out how they did it and why they could shoot 69 more often than I could. All of these things helped make me a better player, all helping me to qualify for Doral that Monday in the not so distant future. Without the help of my friends, peers, and professionals with regard to my golf game and confidence, this would have never happened.
Forward now to 2001, I was a 29 year old club professional and now a 3 year member of the PGA of America. I was still working at the same upscale resort in West Palm Beach, and was playing tournament golf whenever I could. Most events that I could afford were PGA sanctioned events during the summer months. The winter tournaments in Florida are few and far between, plus it is hard to get the time off because we would be in the middle of season and busy with work, lessons, and other job related duties. By the end of January the season is still in full swing but you now start to look ahead to tournament season. This was around the time when the qualifiers for the tour events surface and you would start to prepare for them.
I was still known as an underachieving player, a lot of talent but never seemed to put it together for long stretches. I would win an event one week, and next week I would miss the cut or shoot 79. But 2001 was different for me. Following up a great 2000 season, I had some great rounds at my home track during the off months, even shooting a career low round 63, with two bogeys and 3 three putt greens. I had continued to develop my new approach to the game, information that I continued to receive from some of my mini tour friends, and then reaffirmed with my more consistent play. I learned this while caddying for them from time to time, to see what they did better than what I did in tournament play. They were proponents of eliminating one side of the course, telling me, “Eliminate half the course, and your scores will drop”.
So I was on a mission to approach the game in another way, a way to figure out how to eliminate one side of the course, and the shot shape that would allow me to do that. I had been working on this aspect of my game for a year or so and in late ‘99 things were really getting good, and then in early 2001, I was shooting great scores more often and my game steadily became much more consistent. Left to right it was, I just found it easier to do and like Hogan said, “You can talk to a fade, but a hook does not listen”.
The Monday qualifier for Doral was just around the corner and I had a great schedule at work that week. I was able to play every other day, and on that Sunday before the qualifier. So I figured I would be firing on all cylinders going into the qualifier, and indeed that was the case. I shoot 69, 63, 68, 67 during the previous two weeks, and a late afternoon nine of 34 on Sunday night, after an impromptu putting session just before the qualifier the day before. So Monday morning comes around and the weather is perfect, a little chilly to start the round, and then it proceeded to warm up nicely. All the while the wind is steadily picking up, getting gusty up to 20-25 mph.
To make a long story short, I shoot 70 and then had to wait in the clubhouse for about 3 hours. During that time I managed to consume my fair share of Beam and Cokes, and if a playoff had in sued, I would have been useless. I was also able to analyze my round and figure out that I really played well and eventually hung on to shoot the score that I did. Had it 4 under on the front nine and was cruising along, and then hit a small road block on the back with a double on the 15th hole. Somehow I managed to get it into the clubhouse, getting it up and down from no man’s land on 17, and then two putting on 18 from about 50-60 feet. I was drained mentally, and the post round beverages were going, so lucky for me a playoff did not happen. Then the last really strong player in the section came in from the final group and he had shot 73, I had actually done it; I qualified for the PGA tour event at Doral. It was that single most important thing that I had done in the game of golf up to that point.