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I love golf. I always have. I believe in everything that's good about the game: the honesty and integrity and reliance on self that it demands. It still amazes me that I can make a ball go 300 yards and land exactly where I'm looking. Hitting a shot just right and watching the ball fly against the sky is still one of the most thrilling things I can imagine. But as much as I love golf, I'm not sure I want to play it for a living any longer.
I turn 40 this July and have spent 13 years on the PGA Tour, along the way making more than $9.3 million and nearly as many friends. I've proved I belong on Tour and provided a nice life for my high school sweetheart, Allison, and our three sons, Harrison, Ford and Slayden (11, 8 and 4). But there's also been plenty of disappointment. I've never played in a Masters or a British Open, and despite a bunch of near misses, I've never won a Tour event. I've put winning on a pedestal for so long that it's hard to imagine walking away without a victory. It's not so much for me anymore. I want it for Allison and my parents and my friends and poor Randy Smith, my teacher at Royal Oaks in Dallas, who has had to put up with me all these years. I especially want it for my boys. But the last few years I've felt as if I were banging my head against the wall, wearing myself out physically, mentally and emotionally.
Last summer I blew out my hip and underwent the fourth significant surgery of my career, putting me on the shelf for the rest of the season. For my first month at home I was antsy and angry. But then, slowly, I could feel more than a decade of anxiety start to melt away. I started sleeping better. Old friends began commenting on how much they had missed my smile. Allison and I felt closer than we'd ever been. For the first time I was able to be an assistant coach for one of my boy's teams, in this case Ford's lacrosse squad. It was a joy to watch the kids develop and get to know their parents and have that bonding time with my son.
In December, I began gearing up for my return to the Tour, and my demeanor changed immediately. I started to get stressed out and snappy. If the line at Starbucks moved a little too slowly, it would drive me crazy, whereas a few months earlier I would've been happy to chat with the people in line. Allison drove me to the airport as I was leaving to start my 2011 season at the Hope, and she gave me a great pep talk. "You're not the same man you were six months ago," she said. "Just have fun and be yourself."
During the first round of the Hope, I birdied two of the first four holes. The whole time I was laughing and joking with my amateur partners and having a great time. There was a backup on the 5th tee, and as we waited, my mind began to wander. One overpowering feeling hit me: I don't like this. I want to go home. I pushed the thought out of my mind and kept playing, but six weeks later I'm still at a crossroads, struggling with my emotions. I know if I play my best, I have enough game to win a tournament. Maybe more than one. But I also know the commitment it will take to play at that level—is it worth the mental anguish and wear and tear on my soul? And if I decide to go for it, will my body hold up? I don't know the answers to these and many other questions.
I haven't given up by any means. I'm going to play hard for the rest of this year, see what happens and then make a decision. But I'm coming to grips with the fact that this very well could be my final season on Tour.
I always had a complicated relationship with golf, going all the way back to when I was a junior. The game didn't come that easily for me—especially compared with my lifelong friend Justin Leonard—and I always felt I had something to prove. This continued at Texas, where the coaching staff had a habit of referring to me as a "diamond in the rough," which I interpreted to mean that my game wasn't very polished. What most people know about my college career is that I was Justin's roommate, but I was also a three-time All-America, and my coach, Jimmy Clayton, called the 65 I shot on the final day of the 1994 NCAAs "one of the three or four best rounds in the history of Texas golf." I tend to play my best when I'm at my loosest. I once went 61--29 in a Saturday morning 27-hole qualifier. I did it on 45 minutes of sleep, my arm still stained red from having mixed some very strong Kool-Aid in a trash can at a late-night frat party. The heavily structured team environment at Texas left me pretty burned out. After graduating with a psychology degree—I also minored in Spanish and earned an advanced certificate in business—I married Allison and took a job as a commercial real estate analyst in Dallas, with a starting salary of $22,000. Allison began teaching fifth-graders. We got a house and a dog, and for months at a time I hardly touched my clubs. It was a nice life.
But I've always had an insatiable need to prove to people that I'm not a quitter, so after a year in the real world I went to Q school in the fall of 1996, earning a spot on the Nationwide tour. I won the '97 South Carolina Classic and finished 13th on the money list, sending me to the big leagues.
The Texas swing during my rookie year remains one of the highlights of my career. At the Nelson, I opened with a 64 and wound up in Sunday's final pairing alongside Fred Couples. I played well and tied for second. The next week, at Colonial, I again played in the final group, this time finishing fourth. In two weeks I went from being seen as merely Justin's ex-roommate to a potential force on Tour, thanks to a power game that at season's end left me third in the driving-distance stats.
Over the next few years I had more chances to win. At the 1999 Phoenix Open, I played in the final group with Tiger Woods—that was the day he talked a dozen fans into moving a very large loose impediment—but I shot a rocky 73 and faded to sixth. The close call that still bugs me the most came in 2000 at New Orleans. I had played beautifully all week and was leading by a stroke on the 71st hole, a par-3. The pin was on the left edge of the green, hard against a water hazard. I knew the proper play was to hit my tee shot 30 feet right of the flag and settle for a par, but I didn't have the mental discipline to do it. For a long time I had this morbid desire to prove to the world that I was unconventional. I liked my identity as an aggressive player, so I wasn't going to back down or bail out. Ever. I tugged the shot just a touch and my ball bounced into the lake. I made a crushing double bogey, ultimately slipping to third place.