About four weeks
ago my grandfather Arnold Palmer called and asked if I'd be interested in a
spot in the Bay Hill Invitational. It was something we'd talked about before,
at least hypothetically. Still, I wasn't sure it would actually happen. Then, a
few days later, I saw him on the range, where we often run into each other. He
said, "Have you heard anything yet about playing in the tournament?" I
told him that I hadn't. He smiled. "Well," he said, "you can read
all about it in the newspaper tomorrow."
Naturally, I was
pretty excited about my first PGA Tour start. I can promise you that I've never
had so much fun filling in one of the prearranged-absence forms at my school,
Trinity Prep in Winter Park, Fla. Still, I was a little bummed that so many
questions were being raised about my qualifications. True, I'm only 18 years
old, but most people don't realize that Bay Hill has a history of giving
exemptions to amateurs--there are always a couple of relatively young guys in
the field. And I've had some success in the recent past. I won the Florida high
school championship last year, and I was medalist at the U.S. Junior before
getting knocked out by Kevin Tway, Bob's son and the eventual winner, during
week, I liked my chances to shoot a couple of under-par rounds and make the
cut. I play nine holes on the course every day after school and usually shoot
under par. Obviously, the setup was harder than usual, with thicker rough and
firmer, faster greens. But I didn't feel as if that would hurt me too much. In
fact, I played my practice rounds with pros Charles Warren and Lucas
Glover--both of whom went to Clemson, where I'll be going to school next
year--and hung with them shot for shot, so I was pretty confident.
Friday were a different story. I put way too much pressure on myself, tried to
force things and didn't play the way I could have or usually do. Part of it, I
guess, was wanting to play well for my grandfather. Unfortunately, the low
point of the week came on one of the three or four holes at which he was
watching me. That was the 18th hole on Friday, when I drove it into some azalea
bushes and was forced to take an unplayable lie and replay my tee shot.
tournament was a great experience, even though I shot 76-82 and missed the cut.
My grandfather didn't give me any advice before I went out there except to say,
"Relax, play your own game and have fun." I learned last week that it's
not so easy to do, but it should be easier next time.