Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good Three Weeks To Start 2016

Alicia and I are home for a week off right now. I'm hungry to play, so it was a hard decision to skip an event, but I must admit that it is nice to enjoy HOME. We returned to East Tennessee from a three-tournament stretch that included one good result and two disappointing outcomes, but I am feeling great about our start to the 2016 portion of the season. We will use this time at home to rest, build on the positive things from the first three events, and prepare for another fun stretch of tournamnents that will begin next week. 

The Sony Open in Hawaii did not exactly go according to plan. Coming off a great week with a good result at the Tournament of Champions, I entered the week of the Sony with high expectations. I actually had a very nice week of practice and work, but I was never sharp on the course. I drove the ball erratically and struggled with my putter. Still, despite feeling like I was struggling, I posted scores of 69, 67 on the first two days and went to the weekend in position to make a positive move. I struggled mightily early in my round on Saturday, and though I came back to play my final nine holes in two under par, I posted a third-round 72 (+2). I was tied for 79th place after Saturday's round, and because so many people had made the cut, I was not allowed to play on Sunday. The Tour calls that an "MDF," which stands for "Made Cut, Did Not Finish." I still get credit for a made cut, but it was disappointing to play poorly on Saturday and not have the opportunity to compete in the final round. Even though it didn't always show during the tournament, I still had a nice week at the Sony Open and feel like I continued to improve. 

From Hawaii we traveled to La Quinta, California, for the Career Builder Challenge. The Career Builder is the old Bop Hope Classic, and it is still a pro-am format where the first three days of competition take place over three different courses. I never felt like a played badly there in the California desert, but I made three costly mistakes and never got hot with the putter. I posted rounds of 68, 70, 70 for an eight-under-par total, but I finished the first three days tied for 71st. In other words, I missed the cut. I was extremely disappointed on Saturday afternoon because I felt like I was close to playing very good golf, and I really hated to not have a chance to go compete on Sunday. It's no fun to miss a cut, and I'm pretty sure I will always hate it, but nothing about my performance in the desert has me worried. I actually saw some bright moments with my driver during the event, and I know that I can clean up the costly errors I made. I wasn't far from playing well, and I'll get it clicking. 

When I look back on the first three tournaments of the calendar year, I am really encouraged. From an outcome standpoint, I played ten rounds and accumulated a total of 27 under par. That's not great given the golf courses that I played, but 2.7-under-par per round is certainly not a bad statistic to build on moving forward. More importantly, when I look back over my practice log from the last three weeks, I see that I am doing good work, and I know that my game will keep progressing. Two specific things on which I am working very hard are my driving accuracy and my bunker play, and I'm happy to report that I saw some great signs in both of those areas during the last tournament. (Shout out to caddie Shane for the help in the bunkers!) I am proud of the way that I work and prepare, and I am confident that I will continue to achieve great things because of that. My first three tournament weeks of 2016 were a great start in that regard. 

I'm excited to keep getting better. Having this week off will help me do that. I'm going to play a lot this year, and that is a privilege to which I am very much looking forward, but I know it is something I need to approach with a bit of caution. Shane had to talk me out of signing up for this week's event because I badly wanted to play. If I had, I would be starting the year with at least eight consecutive weeks of tournament play. I know I could handle that, but weeks off are valuable, and I have earned the right to pick my schedule. I am going to make this week valuable by charging up and being ready when Alicia and I travel to Arizona for the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Sunday. 

Thank you for following me and believing in me. We are just getting started! Keep it here to enjoy the journey!

In case you missed it: Alicia and I hosted Inside the PGA Tour in Knoxville, and they did a nice job telling a little bit of our story. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2Nr2LgxKnE&feature=youtu.be

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Catching Up from Hawaii

I'll start with the present. I'm currently getting ready to go to bed at 8:15 pm on Wednesday evening in Honolulu because I have a 7:30 tee time on Thursday morning in the first round of the Sony Open. I have had two really good days of preparation here on the island of Oahu, and I am feeling great heading into the tournament. Waialae Country Club, the host of the Sony Open, is one of my favorite courses on Tour, and I am ready to have a great event here. 

In addition to two good days of preparation here at the Sony Open, I am also carrying the good vibes of a solid performance from last week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions into this tournament. After a six-week break from competition, I teed it up in the winners-only tournament last week in Maui with high expectations for myself in 2016. I had put in a lot of hard, focused, intelligent work over the off-season, and I was ready to let that shine against an elite field to start the year. I began the tournament in an unsettling fashion by bogeying the first two holes, but I recovered to post a two-under-par round of 71 in my first round of the year. I followed that with rounds of 66, 69, 69 for a 17-under-par total and a tied-for-sixth-place finish in the tournament. It was a solid score and a solid result with which to start the year, and both my performance and the result validated the effort that I put in over the offseason. 

Playing in the Tournament of Champions was a very cool experience and one that I would like to have each and every year for the next few decades. I won't lie; it was extremely fun and even a little intimidating to share such an intimate tournament with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, and other top players in the world. It was almost overwhelming, in fact, early in the week to look around at the players with whom I was sharing the practice facilities, but as the week wore on and the tournament began, I firmly grasped the facts that I had earned the right to be there and I belong in that company. What I cool feeling! And my play showed that I believe it. I truly believe that I belong in that tournament and among those players, and I'm ready to keep doing the work that will get me back there every January. 

I could tell several stories, golf and non-golf related, from the week in Maui, but I'll just mention some cool things in bullet-point format. 

-I saw sea turtles! I don't know anything about marine biology, but using my parent's snorkeling gear right off the beach in front of the hotel, I swam with sea turtles. 

-I shot -17 for four rounds without ever feeling like I putted as well as I can. 

-I got to see humpback whales breach from the golf course. 

-On the twelfth hole on Sunday, I hit a poor drive into the wind and it went into a bunker that was less that 250 yards to carry. When I got to the bunker, I couldn't even see my ball. It had plugged so deeply into the face of the sand that I had to remove some sand to identify my ball and then re-cover it. I was in a bad spot, but I swung hard and advanced my ball about six feet. From there, I faced a blind shot of about 180 yards into a strong wind from the first cut of rough. I hit a four iron into the sky ahead me. It ended up on the green about 25 feet from the hole, and I made that for par. It was one of the better pars of my life, and it helped me keep a solid round going on Sunday. 

My week in Maui was a great start to 2016. I'm really excited to keep following my plan and to continue improving, and I'm ready to have another good tournament in Hawaii at this week's Sony Open. 

Thank you for following me! Keep it here for another update later this week.

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