"If I come here, I won't be Number 5," David said. "I plan to be Number 1." He enrolled at Tech and shocked his new teammates once more: He wanted his picture on the cover of the media guide his freshman year. Maybe if he and that swing of his were on it, no one would dream how miserable the unfamiliar made him, how close he was to leaving school and turning back.
For autumn of that first year, 1989, the team had been tossed a plum: the Shiseido Cup in Japan. Only the lowest five scorers over six rounds of qualifying would make the trip; the rest of the squad would remain home. David felt out of control in this new world, couldn't focus. David didn't qualify to go to Japan.
Japanese organizers blanched when they learned that the U.S. Junior champion wasn't coming. They requested that an exception be made, that David be permitted to compete as an individual.
Now it was his teammates' turn to blanch. What about the Tech golfer who had finished sixth in the team's qualifying rounds, ahead of David, and had to stay home? There weren't enough blankets on the flight to Tokyo to counter the chill.
On the final hole of the Shiseido Cup, Phil Mickelson sank a 15-foot breaking putt to beat David. Georgia Tech's seventh-place qualifier had failed to do the cruelest thing to his new teammates that he possibly could, but only by one stroke.
Pity the poor coach. No, don't pity the poor coach. Puggy Blackmon was the smart, strong-willed man who directed Georgia Tech's golf team and was a Christian to the bone. He knew well Matthew 18:12-14, the parable of the shepherd who left his flock to bring back the solitary lamb. Puggy began walking, ignoring the flock's warnings: No, Coach, that's the wolf!
In David's first ACC tournament, he placed second, and his team tied for fifth. Teammate Tripp Isenhour walked right up to him. "David," he gushed, "you played great, that was awesome."
"Yeah," David replied, voice flat as a desert horizon. "If I'd had teammates worth a s—-, we'd have won the damn tournament."
His teammates' mouths fell open. They couldn't hear the echoes of the boy's scream and footsteps down that hospital corridor. If only they had known the full story then, they would say years later, maybe things would've been different.
What they saw was a new sort of human creature, one whose self-esteem lacked a seemingly critical component: what others felt about him. Their approval meant nothing to him. They were rendered immaterial.