You played a web event in 1997, how did you get into that?
They gave an exemption to the best High School player in the state,…so they gave me a sponsor’s exemption into the event…I can remember it like it was yesterday…I had won every high school event I played in that year, including the 4A state championship the previous week. I went into it really excited and confident. I was playing with Franklin Langham and Ian Steel, Langham’s Caddy was an old Southern Caddy, and he gives me this pep talk on the first day “C’mon son, you acting like you gotta do something, you ain’t gotta do nothing, just let it happen” Right after he said that I went birdie-birdie to shoot 71 on first day…I shot 66 the second day, I think I was like T8 or something. On Saturday I wake up, go to the course and there is 300 people watching, I kinda freaked out. I shot 42 on the front, 34 on back. I ended up shooting 70 on Sunday and finished like 40th or something.
Did you have any mentors going into pro golf, to kind of give you an idea of what to expect?
I did not have pro mentors, my biggest mentor was my coach Puggy Blackmon…I really learned into him and asked him, alright how do I get really good at this game? And I just basically listened to everything he told me. He coached Stewart Cink and David Duval so he was a great person to lean on.
How did you start your pro career, did you have sponsors that helped you?
I had 6 members at Smithfield country club that raised $11,000 for me to start my career, and I turned that into a career….So 2001 I tried to make the Walker Cup team, I was ranked fifth and didn’t get on the team. So I turn pro, I miss at Q school. 2002 I did 11 or 12 Monday’s and I only qualified for 2. That year I did the Iowa Open, the Waterloo Open, and played in Marshall Minnesota on the Dakota’s tour. Up until that point I was doing mediocre, I was barely staying afloat. And I was doing everything on the cheap. I was driving everywhere, I was sharing rooms with my buddy Jin Park. Then at the end of the year I played the last 4 events of the Hooters tour and my worst finish was a 7th. And one of the events was cancelled after 1 round because of weather and I was leading. So that gave me some confidence. Then I got thru at Q school in 2002. But that was a real bear, I was way outside the number at 1st and 2nd stage and shot 68 the final day both times to get thru.
Did you have any misconceptions about what pro golf was like? Did you know what to expect as far as life on the road etc?
I can tell you exactly what my first pro event was like. I drove from Columbia South Carolina to Salt Lake City Utah to do the Mon Qualifier out there. I was 21 or 22 year old kid, so I drive out there, takes me forever, like 3 days. I am staying in a hotel room by myself for the first time really and I’m thinking I’m not really sure about this…I went out to the practice round and met a really nice guy Darren Slackman, was a couple years older than me. I go out Monday and I shot 76 and I think 67 played off, and I knew right then, I just missed by 9 shots, I need to get A LOT better…I drove from there to Boise Idaho, slept on Darren Slackman’s couch for a week getting ready for the next event. Then I drove up to in Tri-Cities Washington, shoot 67 at the Monday Q and get into that event.
How did that event go?
I freaked out again, I was like 6th or 7th going into final round, didn’t sleep a wink that night, I was still carrying my Gamecock golf bag, I mean I was a mess. Last day I was paired with John Rollins or Tim Petrovic I go out there on Sunday and shoot like 78 or 79 and finish way back like 50th or something. And right after I have to get in the car and drive 6 or 7 hours to Eugene Oregon to try to Mon Q there.I tee it up blind, shoot 69 and qualify. Then Tuesday was 9/11.
What was your lowest point in golf, was there a particular moment?
I have had a lot of low moments, I missed a ton of cuts this year, but I was never low, it was frustrating for sure but never low. Lower for me would be probably be 2012. I had a full blow case of the yips with the putter, ball striking I was leading the tour from like 125 to 150, #2 out of the rough. I was top 32 in every stat from 150 and in and I made no money because I couldn’t hole a 3-foot putt, it’s the worst feeling in the world. You feel like an exposed nerve on the golf course. I am a pretty stubborn person and I refused to go out like that. So, I switched to the claw grip and I worked on a lot. I worked with a psychologist and got out of it. I was able to win a couple times after that and that is pretty fulfilling. It has been a pretty bumpy road at times for me. I am one of the few guys has made more money per start on the web.com tour than the PGA tour.
Are you 100% done? What if you did well, at say the Rex Hospital Open?
I don’t want to say I definitely won’t go to Raleigh, I would love to keep that streak going, but it would take a really understanding boss to let me go. I told someone yesterday if someone gave me a PGA tour card for the next 3 years, I’m not sure I would take it. It is such a grind. I gave it my all this year, and my all wasn’t good enough. It’s unfortunate but it is what it is. And maybe when I turn 50 I’ll have a better luck playing those guys.
When you look back on your career are you proud of it?
I am definitely proud of my career, I wish it was a little better. I am proud of the relationships I have built, I am proud of the way I conducted myself on the golf course. I feel like I did a good job of mentoring guys coming up. Some of these guys that went right to the PGA tour I have tried to put under my wing, just give them some advice. If I could tell any pro starting out, outside of working hard on their game, is to do a great job in the pro-ams. Get the pro-am players contact info and stay in touch with them, I cannot tell you how much that will help with not only your playing career but after.
What will you miss the most?
I think what I will miss the most is outside of golf. I basically grew up with 10 to 12 families around that country that I would stay with. I will miss seeing those people, having dinners and conversations with people around the country. I won’t miss grinding over a 4 ft Left to right slider.
Is the family the main reason for retiring or are there other factors?
Yeah, I’ve really just lost the passion for it. As a family we traveled to the last 6 or 7 events this year, it was really important to me that my kids knew me as a pro golfer. And now that my older kids are now 9 and 7 and they got to see the circus out there, so that’s not a concern to me anymore. So, I could go back to the web tour, I could probably get my tour card back, but the web store is just not conducive to family life. Especially for a family of 5. Imagine this, when you play the full season on web tour, when you walk out the door to start the season your 150k in the hole. That’s the way I considered it anyways. If your working at the local 7/11 making 25k a year, your making WAY more than a lot of web guys.
Would you do it again? Given your same career would you do it again?
Man, that’s a good question. I would have to think long and hard about that. I have had some REALLY cool experiences. I have played in Japan, Australia, Middle East, all over the world and that was amazing. But all of that said I am little bit behind the 8 ball financially. But yeah, I would probably do it again. I’ve learned how to interact with say, the billionaire and not get nervous. And basically how to treat people. That’s one thing I see with some of these younger guys is, they don’t do a great job at pro-ams. I have heard some complaints from guys who have played in pro am’s and weren’t treated well. I just talked to a guy who played with a pro in Hilton Head and said the guy didn’t say a word the entire round. He was on his phone basically the whole round. When you golf career is dried up, or you have a bad year driving the ball, you never know who can help you, so make sure you take time at those pro-ams.
How many times did you put serious consideration into retirement prior to this year?
Probably twice. After 2012 and the yips, but after the season I went down to a Hooters event and shot like 22 under and didn’t have a single yippy stroke and I got my fire back. And I played a bunch of mini tour events around Atlanta that year and won a bunch of them, and that helped just to get used to winning again. And definitely in 2015 before I won at Raleigh.
Did you go into this year as a make or break year?
Yes. I promised my wife before the year that if I had to go back to the web tour I was done. I’m not doing it. Don’t get me wrong I love the web.com tour. The people are amazing the staff is amazing, EXCEPT for the cash. If the cash was 25% or 30% higher, I may have kept going. Its just hard on the family. I knew early on that if this year doesn’t go the way I want I’m out. That probably affected my last 3 or 4 tournaments because I was already thinking about the next step.
Were you able to enjoy the last 3 or 4 weeks, or was it I am ready to be done?
No, I was totally able to enjoy it. I was just soaking it all in. I was walking around with my head high. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have the respect of my peers. I did enjoy it, I really did. I wished I played a little better, but that’s life.