I am deaf and I am black, so I always knew my PGA Tour debut would attract some attention, but when it finally happened last week at the U.S. Bank Championship, the TV cameras and the crowds took my breath away. The support from all those people really touched me. While I missed the cut by four shots, it was an amazing experience, and now I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to play on Tour.
The invitation to Milwaukee arrived out of the blue. In June, I graduated from Ohio State, where I did pretty well, academically and athletically. I got my degree in journalism with a 3.2 GPA, and in 2004 I won the Big Ten championship by 11 strokes. Since graduation I've been trying to Monday-qualify for Nationwide Tour events while hoping for PGA Tour sponsor's exemptions to come through.
On July 18 I was running some errands back home in Cincinnati when my dad paged me, saying, "We're playing this week!" I thought he was kidding, but a few hours later we were headed to Wisconsin.
Being deaf naturally poses some day-to-day difficulties (I lost my hearing when I was two as a result of haemophilus influenzae meningitis), but my on-course challenges are the same as any golfer's. I have to hit fairways and quality approach shots and sometimes, like last week, get the ball to the hole on soggy greens. (After I finished playing last Friday, I signed to my mom, "I putted like you today!")
One constant for me has been the backing of the golf community, from teammates and coaches to the pros. I've even gotten some encouragement from Tiger Woods. I first met him at a clinic in 1999, when I was 16. Looking at my swing--which back then was like Colin Montgomerie's, straight up and straight down--Tiger told me to lengthen my takeaway, and I picked up 15 yards right away. When we finished, he said, "See you out on Tour," and I'm pretty sure he meant it. (Since then we've met a few times at the Memorial.) Ohio State's Tour alums have been especially great. John Cook and Joey Sindelar have given me lots of encouragement and advice, and John has been trying to help me get exemptions.
For years I've been told I'm a role model for deaf people and African-Americans. It's not something I've asked for, but I recognize it's true. Like I've said to my folks: In the world I'm only one person, but to one person I may mean the world.
I'm certainly not conscious of that when I'm playing, though. If people want to follow my lead, that's great. As for me, as long as I'm out there working hard and pursuing my dreams, I'm content.