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19th Hole

What it’s really like to have your first start be the U.S. Open

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Golf is incredibly unique in that your first professional start can be in—what amounts to— the equivalent of the Super, er.. Big Game. You can’t, after all, just show up and start in the World Series, as much as I’m sure your 82 mph heater warrants it, but, in golf with the right amount of skill and luck, you can. Such was my experience, and I know I’m not alone; a good number of others have experienced the same.

How incredibly unique that anyone with a 1.4 handicap or better can try and qualify for one of the biggest tournaments on the planet, teeing it up against Tiger, Phil, Rory, and the full cast of faces that grace the Golf Channel on a daily basis. Such is the U.S. Open hope and dream, year after year.

But, seeing as most of the world will never get to experience teeing it up with literally world history on the line (not to mention Wikipedia immortality), I thought I would highlight a few of my more memorable experiences, hoping to give you a glimpse into the true “behind the scenes” look at not only playing in a U.S. Open but having such a stage be your first start for money. (Which, ironically, was actually my first check as a pro, even though I MC-hammered my way home after a 77-75). It turned out the USGA pays even the bottom dwellers a travel stipend (and I didn’t even have to return my Lexus with a full tank of gas. #Winning).

Just for clarification, I know my specific individual experience was unique. Even if it was simply because I didn’t straight away qualify for the Open like normal folks and snag my tee time on my own, no sir. I decided a narrow miss in Sectional Qualifying (which ultimately required a ruling from every available Rules Official— at the same time–) was a much better plan of action.

This led to the Supreme Rules Leader (or Head Official for those not yet in tune with how the USGA feels about themselves) of the qualifier telling me not to get my hopes up about playing in the event. Swell. Fast forward about 20 hours and Tiger Woods withdraws for one of his various injuries, and somehow I find myself smack dab at the top of the alternate list. 

Anyways, that is an entirely separate story, which you can all google and read the details about. For that reason; stories about and from press conferences, TV interviews and about a thousand-ish autographs will remain out of this, as I want to paint the picture for more of what I know every first-time professional experiences at the U.S. Open.

#1- Holy Crap are there a lot of people. 

I mean were there a lot of people, back in the BC— before COVID— era. But also, holy crap do people like to keep talking, even after the “Quiet Please” signs are up. And really, to clarify, what I truly mean is that people think a whisper doesn’t carry, but it really does.

Not a huge deal, because naturally, people are going to be whispering words of affirmation to the rookie about to hit a 4 iron over water on his first shot as a pro right? Wrong. A few degenerates (said entirely without judgement) might have decided making last-second wagers on whether my tee ball would find the drink or beach was worth a quick convo. I should have turned around and gotten some of the action before I safely placed my shot to 30 feet and two-putted for par.

What I found through subsequent professional events in various places and on various tours was that there is a constant chatter and steady buzz happening at an event, and as a first-timer, it was a little unsettling. I was quite used to having my mom in the gallery, and pretty much only my mom, but this swell of folks was a little more noisy. 

We’ve all heard of the advantage that Tiger has when he’s playing, because his playing partner usually isn’t accustomed to the size of the crowds he now finds himself in, and that rings true at every level. The biggest weapon a golfer has is comfort, and every “next” level for every golfer provides a challenge to keep that comfort. When you play in your first U.S. Open as a professional, the grand-ness of the stage and the constant buzz can really take you out of your element.

#2- Veterans can always spot a rookie.

It doesn’t matter what vocation you’re in, if you’re good at it, and experienced in it, you’re going to be able to spot the tenderfoot. They really aren’t trying to stick out, but they do nonetheless.

Completely unrelated to the previous three sentences, I arrived at the U.S. Open with no putter. Yes. Truly. By choice. (Another one of those stories for another day.) And as I was going through the bags full and full of options, I found one that caught my eye. A beautiful Bettinardi. I took it out of the bag and waited for the Harry Potter “wand choosing the wizard” moment, and decided this one was worth a try over on the putting green. The only issue was I couldn’t find the Betti rep to ask him if I was allowed to try it. Rookie move. 

Along comes a veteran, who shall remain nameless, although he’s pretty good at golf I’ll have you know, who immediately reads the consternation on my face, and says, verbatim, “Take it. They want you to have it. Just take it.” Sold. 

Eventually, the Betti rep finds me and goes “I hear you’ve got one of my putters…” I think, “Aw crap, jig’s up.” (And second of all, I still want to know who the snitch is.) But he continues, “…I just want to know what you think of it and is there anything we can do with it for you or find another one that suits you better?”

I never ended up using that putter, but that didn’t stop it from finding its way into my car and eventually to my home in Texas, I mean hey, they wanted me to have it. “Blank Blank” said so.

To summarize a mildly interesting story for the takeaway: the second thing every first-timer learns is that even if you are the next superstar, and you are actually better than 80% of the current U.S. Open field, the veterans know you’re a rookie, and they usually have no bones about letting you know. As was the case when I was asked not to join a group of three Australians for a practice round, when I, as a single, was standing on the tee before them. Things like this are commonplace and to be expected anytime you play with the big boys on their turf, in any industry.

P.S No, you’re not going to get me to spill the Australians names, no, it’s not the ones you’re thinking of, and yes I am grateful they acted like jerks, because that was the day I got to play a practice with Retief Goosen, Aaron Baddeley, and Marc Leishman, who were all fantastic and allowed me to ask any and every question, and we even had some pretty fun banter. (I’m sure Retief still remembers the one time I outdrove him, and that would definitely weigh on my mind as I stared at my two U.S. Open trophies.)

#3, Your courtesy car Lexus may run on premium, but you will run on high octane adrenaline for the entire week.

I’m sort of a high-energy guy already, but there is no doubt, that the big-ness of the event gets your juices flowing. Grandstands, fans, autograph signings (even for me), TV towers, interviews, press conferences… everything gets adrenaline coursing through every vein in your body. Ryan Palmer’s caddy told me that week, “Make sure and rest. It’s a long week, you’ve got to ease into it. Shoot for 9 holes a day and some practice.”

I proceeded to play 18 holes for three practice rounds straight. He’s just fortunate I didn’t play 36.

But, there can be no denying that the ones who make the week almost routine or take all of the pomp and grandeur in stride, are the ones who have been there and have found a way to make it still just a golf tournament. You take the little white ball, you aim it at the skinny stick with a flag, and you try to get it in that hole as fast as possible. 

I never found that rhythm, and my brother, who I shared a room with that week, said I was doing interviews in my sleep. “It’s the U.S. Open, it’s a little different” was the quote of the week from a 2 am press conference I was having in my bed. Obviously for me, it was a little different, and for every other newbie, there’s no way for it not to be. It is, in fact, a major championship, and that means it is one of the greatest and most prestigious golf tournaments on the planet. Your first professional event will usually be in a small town, on a shorter, easier golf course, and you will probably play in front of exactly no one. But for the few who tee it up in a tour event, or the US or Open championship, it takes on a completely different feel and experience. 

If you love competitive golf, then there is nothing like it, and I urge you to pursue it with all of the available time and resources you wish to give it. It truly will be one of the experiences you can’t buy, and you won’t ever forget. I wrote out the entire experience recently just so I wouldn’t forget, and I kid you not, I remember what I did Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every day from that entire week. Conversations I had, people I met.. everything. Like it was yesterday, and that was 9 years ago.

The list above is by no means comprehensive, but I hope you enjoy what I know are three things that every first time professional at the U.S. Open will experience. If by some random amazing circumstance you wish to hear more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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19th Hole

Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay to caddie at next week’s PGA Championship

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Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay will return to looping duties at next week’s PGA Championship after a mix up meant that Max Homa’s caddie would be unavailable.

Speaking on the Get a Grip podcast, Homa explained that his regular caddie Joe Greiner wanted to attempt to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Chambers Bay – believing that the event was the week of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

However, after realizing the event was in the middle of this year’s PGA Championship, it left Homa stuck, but Greiner quickly found him a decent replacement in the legendary Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay.

“I’m super, super fortunate. I’ve gotten to know Bones out at Whisper Rock in Arizona and he is truly one of the nicest, greatest people I’ve ever been around.” said Homa on teaming up with Mackay.

Mackay has recently worked for NBC and Golf Channel telecasts since his split with Phil Mickelson. However, he has also worked as a fill-in caddie for Justin Thomas, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Jimmy Walker over the past couple of years.

Next week will be the first time Bones has teamed up with Homa, and it’s a prospect that the 30-year-old is relishing.

“I have the utmost respect for Joe’s caddying and I mean this is not a slight at all, so please believe me when I say that … but it’ll be really cool to be around someone like Bones,” said Homa. “Joe has learned his way into this. Not that Bones didn’t, but he’s been doing this forever.”

 

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19th Hole

Smylie Kaufman explains brutal 1-foot miss at Monday Qualifying

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We’ve all heard stories about how cutthroat Monday qualifying is each week, but Kaufman’s tale is a real heartbreaker.

Kaufman missed out on a playoff by one stroke, and the crucial one stroke needed to make up the ground was a missed 1-foot putt.

The Alabama native took to Twitter on Tuesday explaining the missed 1-foot putt, which he put down to: “not realizing my ball accumulated so much water and sand” after a rain delay.

Golf fans were perplexed by the incident, with many not sure if Kaufman had failed to mark his ball, but it’s more likely that the putt was his second after the restart. Just brutal luck.

The 29-year-olds fall from grace has seen him drop to 1530 in the World Golf Ranking, having made just one cut worldwide since 2019.

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19th Hole

Rory McIlroy’s heart rate hit stunning high on 72nd hole at Wells Fargo

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PGA Tour professionals are imperious at looking cool under pressure, but in reality, they aren’t immune to high moments of stress.

Thanks to Whoop’s partnership with the PGA Tour, now us mere mortals can all see exactly how the best are feeling.

The most stressful moment for Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow last week came on the 72nd hole when he hooked his 3-wood off the tee dangerously close to the water.

Per Whoop Live, the Irishman’s BPM (Beats per Minute) spiked to 140 following the tee shot. It settled back to 115 as he addressed his approach to the green but once again rose dramatically following his putt to win, with his BPM hitting a remarkable 151.

 

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Whoop, the human performance company and 24/7 fitness tracker and health monitor, became the official fitness wearable of the PGA TOUR in January.

Part of this partnership includes Whoop Live, which throughout the season will highlight player biometric data and heart rate during defining moments with real-time metrics integrated into live broadcast and digital content.

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