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Opinion & Analysis

A GolfWRXer auditions for the Big Break

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I just wanted to start this article by thanking GolfWRX for allowing me to share my story of battling ulcerative colitis, and to the community of great members for taking the time to read it. It was a blast for me to write it, and I feel I am achieving one of my goals of raising awareness about the disease and just how difficult it can be on the people and their loved ones going through it.

To provide a bit more insight as to where I am now, I am feeling 100 percent. It was a long road to get there, mind you. After being told I would be in the hospital for three to five days, I was there for 14, home for two and then back to the hospital for another three.

I remember a lot about being in the hospital. The thing that I will take with me the most is the love and support of my family and friends. My loving wife (fiancée at the time) was the best. She would always be with me and just made me feel so good about it all, and always encouraged me to continue to get better and better. My brother came to visit me every single day; a 45-minute drive away and never missed a day. It meant the world to me to see him, and he made things easier for me. My mom and dad were there a lot too, and my friends all came to visit. It’s the people in your life that make the difference, and I think my team of people is the best!

I also remember my weight. Before getting so sick, I was about 170 pounds. A few days after my surgery I got on the scale and it said 123! I was in shock. I was so skinny it was scary. I am happy to say that I am now back to 165, and feel great about it.

As for my ostomy, I still have it. I am in a position to remove it and replace it with an internal “J-Pouch,” however I plan to keep my bag. For me, it has been easy to deal with, and I can easily handle it. I consider it my life-saver, and it truly has been. It allows me to golf, and live a very normal life, it is all good!

Now, as for golf, I was able to get in a very full 2012 season and it was a blast. I did a lot to prepare in the cold, wintery months here in Toronto and felt ready to go once 2012 started. My goal was to compete in about four or five events, but that changed when a big break came.

I saw the application online for The Golf Channel’s “Big Break” and I knew I had to apply. True, I was very rusty at the time, but I thought why not? What a story it would be right? I applied and kind of forgot about it, that is until the show got back to me asking me to come apply. The problem was the auditions were nowhere near me; Florida, North Carolina and Phoenix were the sites.

I am a die-hard Phoenix Coyotes fan, and it has been a dream of mine to go to Arizona. I really thought hard about it, and then my father-in-law offered to help out with the costs of the trip. He believed in me, and knew this was a great opportunity for me to live out two dreams: go to Phoenix and be on the Big Break. From there, I had to go for it, and I did! It was mid-March, and I was on my way, about to try to make it on the show.It was a dream come true just to be there, and a trip I won’t soon forget. I was very fortunate to be able to play TPC Scottsdale, as well as Troon North while out there, and both were incredible. Troon North truly blew me away. It was something else!

I remember very clearly my audition for the show. I arrived at the course very early, and figured I would warm up and hit some putts — really just soak the whole experience in. I remember hitting balls and watching the guy beside me. He was swinging so beautifully, so pure and it was something else to see. It reminded me a lot of my favorite player, Aaron Baddeley. Turns out that it was Ray Beaufils, who, of course, qualified for the show. When it was finally my turn to be interviewed, I was really nervous, but confident at the same time. I went over in my head a number of times the potential questions and of course what my answers were. I felt pretty good as the interview kept going. He then asked me about my surgery, and I could tell he had never heard of the disease. He seemed was very confused as I told him a little about the procedure and what happened. That threw me off a little, and I kind of froze over the last question or two.

When it was time to hit some balls, I did, but they were OK shots at best. My flaw of a little over-hooking shots showed up a bit, but it could have been worse. When I left the course, I was really kicking myself over the interview more than anything. I really wanted a chance to have a do over on the final few questions, and actually show him my ostomy bag. I knew he was clueless about it, I should have just showed him. I was down, but decided to not let it ruin my trip. Later that week I got to live out a dream of seeing the Coyotes at home, and it was amazing. Thinking back to that night — wow —  so amazing! Of course, not totally like the atmosphere in Toronto or Montreal, but it was special nonetheless. And getting to meet Shane Doan and Mike Smith the day before at practice made it all the more special.

The only down side of the trip was the fact that I used up five of my vacation days at work, really limiting me in terms of days I could take for events. I knew that going in, but knew it was worth it! It was painful waiting to hear back from the show, and when I got the news I was not selected I was upset, but I totally understood. I think getting that “no” kept me motivated for 2012 to work hard on my game, and be more prepared for another shot if I decide to go for it.

As the season went on, it was just so great to be out playing. After missing so much time, the scores were a lot less important than the actual playing part. I started off playing respectably, but not up to my standards. I was hitting the ball well, but I was a bit shorter than I was used to, and was really struggling with my putter. That was until June, when I added a long putter. That putter served me well for the second half of the season, and I was able to shoot some pretty solid scores while in Florida in July. I was able to sneak in one event toward the end of the season, which was interesting to say the least.

I went up a few days before for a practice round and later found out that the Tour changed the event course! I really wish I had known that! So I arrived for the event going in cold, not ever seeing the course. But was just ready to have a good time and feel the nerves again of professional golf.

I vividly recall my warm-up session and just how good it was. I was flushing it, and honestly only missed one shot all warm-up. I was ready. Of course, what do I do on the first tee? Pull it left, lose the ball and make a six. It was weird; I honestly did not feel too nervous — I just really miss-aligned myself for fear of going right and over did it. As the round went on, I continued to struggle. I just kept telling myself have fun, and remember this is just a prep for 2013. I got a bit discouraged on the back after a few three-putts and left the course sour about how poor I played. But I was still excited to be back in professional golf, and looking forward to 2013.

Once again, thank you all so much for the read. It has been a lot of fun writing these entries and even more fun hearing all the well wishes from the community.

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I am a very proud member of the PGA of Canada, and love all aspects of this great game. I had ulcerative colitis in 2010 and 2011, and had my colon removed in August of 2011. It was the best decision of my life. I am currently working hard on my game and career, and I love the opportunity to share my story with the GolfWRX community

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  1. Brian Cass

    Jan 29, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    A great story. That’s inspirational!

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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