SI Vault
March 05, 2012
A year ago I was so frustrated that I was on the verge of walking away from the game and taking a new job. Then I won for the first time and my perspective—on everything—changed
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March 05, 2012

Fresh Start At 40

A year ago I was so frustrated that I was on the verge of walking away from the game and taking a new job. Then I won for the first time and my perspective—on everything—changed

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Last year in these pages I offered a brutally honest account of my struggle to find contentment on the PGA Tour. When the story came out I was in my 14th season and still searching for my first victory. I loved the game deeply, but a series of injuries had led to some tough seasons, and it was getting harder to go to tournaments and leave behind my high school sweetheart, Allison, and our three sons, Harrison (12), Ford (9) and Slayden (5). I was at a crossroads—scared and depressed and confused, and all that came out in the story. I tried to make it clear that I was going to play hard for the rest of the season and then reassess, but that was easier said than done. I was thinking more and more about getting a job in the real world. I had done it coming out of college; I could do it again.

I wasn't expecting the strong reactions the story generated. Players pulled me aside to thank me for being so candid. We all know how lucky we are to play this game for a living, but there is an unseen side to the job. The physical toll and the stress from the competition and the constant travel can be overwhelming. It was especially gratifying when one player told me it took a lot of courage for me to talk about these things honestly. Of course, the story ruffled a few feathers. On Twitter, Paul Azinger called me "negative." Some of the commentators on the golf websites weren't sympathetic, to put it mildly. I was called "weak," "pathetic," "washed-up," "a spare part" and worse. Those words stung, but facing the criticism was the beginning of the healing process. There were also heated conversations with family members. They were upset because they thought the story was a sign that I had given up. But for me the real motivation to do the article was to let everyone know how I was feeling. They'd see me at church or the country club with my beautiful family or on TV playing golf and think I had the perfect life. It was cathartic for me to express all my doubts and fears.

Last year's PGA Tour Confidential issue came out the week of the Honda Classic, which began a streak of five straight missed cuts for me. A big part of the problem was that my surgically repaired left hip was hurting. I couldn't trust it, and every once in a while I would flinch mid-swing, producing some truly horrible shots. It's hard to play with that kind of uncertainty. I should have taken some time off, but because I had talked about my injuries in the story, I felt that people would roll their eyes, like, Here we go again.

Missing cuts was especially painful because I was playing on a medical exemption and had only 11 events to make in the neighborhood of $575,000 and keep my card for the rest of the year. If I didn't, I would be left with only conditional status on the Nationwide tour. I wasn't ready to beat my head against the wall in the minor leagues, so if I didn't make that money, I was fully prepared to walk away from tournament golf. With all this on my mind, my emotions yo-yoed from day to day, even from hole to hole.

New Orleans, at the end of April, was my fifth missed cut in a row. To that point I had made eight starts and earned a grand total of $26,802.50. I flew home to Dallas discouraged, probably the lowest I had ever been. Because of my hip I hadn't been able to get to my left side on the downswing. I went to my club, Royal Oaks, grabbed 400 range balls and said, Dammit, I'm going to fix this. Over and over I forced myself to fire into my left hip. I made some progress, but the next morning I couldn't get out of bed.

I've always feared being called a quitter, so even though I could barely walk, I started packing for that week's tournament in Charlotte. Allison begged me not to go. She knew how badly I was hurting and that I had no chance of performing well. Eventually I called my dad for advice, and he offered some precious wisdom about not being so prideful and to listen to the concerns of the people who love me. I withdrew from Charlotte and spent three weeks getting my back and hip worked on.

When I returned to Royal Oaks, my swing coach, Randy Smith, explained that the way I leverage my hip for extra power was ripping it apart, causing the pain. It was almost like an intervention. I've worked with Randy since I was a teenager. He had explained this to me often, but I guess I had to hit rock bottom to really hear him. We spent a week tweaking my swing, and the pain magically disappeared.

I had plenty of time to work on my game because I had been turned down for a sponsor's exemption to Colonial. That hurt. I am a Texas boy, so that tournament is special for me. But fate works in funny ways. If I had gotten into Colonial, I would not have played in Memphis. During Colonial week I was invited to a dinner with David Toms, a few other golf friends and a couple of gentlemen I didn't know. The man who had arranged the dinner owns and runs one of the largest sports marketing firms in the country, with an emphasis on the NFL. Even though we live in the same community, we had never met. He wanted to expand his company into golf, and unbeknownst to me, one of the purposes of the dinner was to recruit me to lead the new venture. He had read the SI article and was waiting for the right time to approach me. After five consecutive missed cuts, he must have figured this was the right time. Hearing his sales pitch had a profound impact on me. Someone was making very real the prospect of a new life. I suddenly felt I had value as more than a golfer. Even before the dinner was over, a huge weight had been lifted, and I knew that no matter what happened with my golf, everything was going to be O.K. for my family and me.

The next day my boyhood friend Justin Leonard and I played a practice round at Dallas Athletic Club, site of a U.S. Open qualifier. After a few holes Justin said he hadn't seen me so relaxed in a long time. I told him the story about the dinner and the job opportunity. He was quiet for a few holes, and then he looked me in the eye and said, "I know you've been looking for answers. I think that's why you did the SI article. This sounds like a good fit—I think you should take the job." Wow, now another person was calling me out. I suddenly became eager to have some more conversations about the new job, but I still had three tournaments left on my medical exemption and I needed to finish what I had started. I resolved to enjoy my final few weeks on Tour.

A week after my round with Justin I teed it up at the Nelson, my first event since New Orleans. I felt completely freed up, physically and emotionally. For two days I hit it so good but struggled on the greens and barely made the cut. Fifteen minutes before the start of my third round, I abandoned the belly putter I had used for the last couple of years and put a short putter back in the bag. It was the same one I had used to shoot 59 at Q school in 2008. Lo and behold, I started making putts, and thanks to a solid weekend, I finished 14th. I made $107,250, but I only had two starts left to clear almost half a million dollars. The good news was that I had stopped worrying about it.

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