Thursday, December 20, 2012

Memory Lane

             Not all of us that grow up with the dream end up making it to the PGA Tour.  Inadvertently, however, we end up crossing paths with those that do.  This Christmas vacation I have the duty of sorting through some old paperwork and boxes of my father, who passed in a plane crash in 2006.  Among the random things he saved includes folders and pairings from amateur events I played in, programs from my first AJGA events and my first and only USGA event, newspaper clippings from the Arizona Open I played in as an amateur and numerous pictures that I didn’t remember existed.
            The nostalgic stroll down memory lane wasn’t the craziest part of the process however, but rather the hindsight recognition of what I was up against as a competitor.  Some highlights from my only slightly notable amateur career:

2002 North & South Junior Championship

            This was my first trip to the famed Pinehurst Resort and was fortunately not my last.  I played progressively worse as the week went on, culminating with an 81 on the #2 course, which left me toward the rear end of the pack.  I remember switching from the chain hotel to the Carolina even after poor play on the first round and how special that experience was.  I played in two North & South Amateurs after that and my father and I stayed in the Carolina hotel both times from the start. 
            This event was special to me because I wasn’t an elite junior golfer, however I was getting a chance to become one after qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2001 (it’s amazing what just qualifying for that event will do for a tournament resume).  I wasn’t playing particularly well that summer and hadn’t broken par (despite shooting even a dozen times or so) and looked forward to challenging the same course Payne Stewart had won on 3 years prior.
            At the time, the trip was incredibly special, but now that I look back with 20/20 hindsight here’s the kicker – a mid-tournament leader and nearly champion was Webb Simpson.

2001 U.S. Junior Amateur

            In 2001 I actually managed to put two rounds together and qualify for a USGA event (I haven’t done so since – ouch).  I made it to the U.S. Junior Amateur at Oak Hills in San Antonio, Texas.  We road tripped it from Tucson, where I lived at the time, and made it into the normal mid-summer weather you’d expect.  But I was used to that from southern Arizona and had two fairly normal practice rounds, including a -4 back nine during my second practice round.  I felt ready.  I looked ready.  I was playing ready.  I wasn’t ready.
            Everyone hears about the rough in a U.S. Open, the fast and firm greens, the difficulty of the conditions – Oak Hills was no different.  For me at least.  James Vargas shot a record 10-under for the two stroke play rounds, which managed to best my 22-over by a couple of strokes.  They forgot to tell me when I qualified that hitting fairways would be important.  I just saw pictures of my hitting shots from the rough where my shoes are not showing.  The USGA is tough in all of their events, not just the Opens.  Just so you know… 
            In 20/20 hindsight there are two notables: 1)In order to qualify for this event I beat out a player named Michael Thompson, whom some of you may remember from this year’s U.S. Open and the 2008 U.S. Amateur.  Turns out he and I played golf against each other since the wee-little years.  Turns out he was always better than me and I knew it.
            One thing I distinctly remember from that event, and I don’t mean to point it out as a negative, was that there was a player who decided to skip the Player’s Dinner that received an award.  I so desperately wish I could have earned an award for qualifying for the Junior Am 3 times, it really ticked me off that someone wouldn’t show up to be recognized.  I remembered this scoff for years to come.  I could not possibly believe someone would have the gall to not show up for an USGA award.  That player was Kevin Na.  I met him again years later at the 2010 U.S. Open and he really was a true gentleman and perhaps one of the nicer guys I have met on tour.  Strange how things work out.

2003 Arizona Open

            Amongst my father’s collection were clippings from the 2003 Arizona Open, which I qualified for and played in as an amateur.  I even made the cut.  It was basically a Gateway Tour event and it took nearly 20-under to win the three round event, but making the cut at even-par through two rounds for me was an accomplishment.  Heck, only 4 amateurs of the 20-something that started actually made the cut.  After making the cut, I finished poorly, but I always remember this one character that I played with in the practice round. 
            He was a bit goofy, very likable and a hell of a long-hitter for his size.  He was clearly a great player and looking to play beyond state Opens.  I laughed the whole practice round because of him, and I honestly couldn’t repeat most of his jokes even if I could remember them properly.  He may not remember the 18-year old that made his first state open and was trying to hang with the big boys, but I remember his positive attitude.  His name was Robert Garrigus.  Funny how things work out.  I could have given him a short putter then if he’d wanted it…

            There are far more stories that have turned up than I can share, but each time I dig into the deep banks of my memory I realize how everyone goes their separate paths but they frequently have intersections.  I mentioned Michael Thompson once, but I also have the medal from the 2001 Marana Invitational that I finished second in.  He finished first.  But what I remember is walking in after a shotgun start with a 71 and having the clubhouse lead.  I asked who was still left to come in and I was told, “Michael Thompson.”  I said right then, “Oh well, second ain’t that bad.” He came in with 70.
            Perhaps there are some things we know before the future.

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