I was a nervous Nellie before the first round of the PGA, and I had reason to be. I'm a shirt salesman (a.k.a. a club pro) who was playing in his first Tour event, which happened to be a major championship. On Wednesday night all I could think about was, What if I shank it on the 1st tee? What if I throw up in front of 10,000 people? It didn't help that I had spent Wednesday afternoon on the range beating balls next to Tiger Woods. Watching him made me feel like a 25 handicapper.
On Thursday morning my first shot was—thank heavens!—down the middle, and I drained a four-foot birdie putt. I looked at a leader board, and my eyes popped out: Mark Brown was at the top. I fell back to earth by bogeying the 3rd. However, I made one last appearance when I birdied 10, 11 and 15 to reach three under. That's when Jean Van de Velde, one of my playing partners, asked how many Tour events I'd played. "What are you talking about?" I replied. "I sell shirts for a living." Jean said, "Geez, you got to get out here. Your swing is 10 times better than mine."
Friends have told me I should try the Tour, and I have won the New York State Open and the Met Open this year and was second at the national Club Pro Championship. But I'm no dummy. I know the Tour is infinitely more competitive than the club-pro circuit. Still, hearing encouraging words from a Tour pro was a huge boost. It's hard to imagine myself on Tour because I'm so immersed in my job. Anybody who thinks club pros play golf from 9 to 5 should spend a day with me stacking shelves, arranging tee times and giving lessons.
Reality set in on Friday, when I followed my opening 71 with a 77 to miss the cut by a shot, but no matter. My competitive juices are flowing. Coming in second at the Club Pro exempts me into the second stage of Q school. I hadn't planned on making use of that perk, but I'm probably going to now.