I think I have now experienced the worst feeling on the course in my golf career thus far.
A couple of weeks ago I played the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. It was my third tournament on the PGA Tour and the first time I had experienced the sheer size of the crowds that the Tour attracts. There were so many spectators that I actually had to ask the crowd to back up so I wouldn't hit them when I played a few shots throughout the round.
A lot of people might think that performing in front of so many people would be the worst part of this job, that it would just build up the pressure and the psychological challenge of the game. But that's not how I look at it. The more people, the better. It's incredibly gratifying to hit a great shot and hear the crowd cheer. (Of course, when you miss a shot, you have to be prepared to hear one collective groan.)
When I missed the cut that Friday I was pretty disappointed. But it didn't quite sink in until the next day. Those of us who didn't make the cut were asked to play in a Pro-Am tournament on Saturday. Lots of guys hate going to these, especially just after they've missed the cut in a tournament round. (They don't do anything for your rankings.) I don't usually mind all that much. But this time was different.
The Pro-Am course ran directly parallel to the tournament course. I tee'd off the first hole at precisely 9 am.
But when I looked over to my left, I saw the biggest group of PGA fans I have ever seen on a course -- with all of their backs turned to me. At the exact time I was scheduled to tee off, Tiger Woods was teeing off about 20 feet away.
From the tee box to the putting green on that first hole, I was never more than shouting distance away from the mob of people following Tiger.
I don't think I've ever felt like such an outsider in my life. It's not like I blame the spectators. I mean, it was Tiger -- a golfer I've watched for my whole career.
It was a brutal day but also probably the best shot in the arm I could have received. I was angry at myself for not making the cut, so the rest of the day I played golf like my life depended on it. And it sort of worked. No one was watching and the score may not have mattered, but I made 12 birdies and my team wound up winning the round.
As I play Pebble Beach this week, I know one thing for certain: That is a feeling that I will never forget. It was humbling (and, thankfully, motivating at the same time) but I don't want to feel that way again.
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