Last Saturday, I graduated from Baylor School in Chattanooga. My
whole family was there for the ceremony, and they couldn't have
been prouder. This Thursday there will be another family
get-together, in Olympia Fields, Ill., where, at 8:50 a.m., I'll
tee it up in the U.S. Open. I have a feeling that moment might
eclipse graduation night.
As Roy McAvoy said in Tin Cup, the Open is the greatest
tournament in the world because it's the most democratic, and
that's why I'll be playing in it. Anybody with a handicap of 1.4
or better, and the entry fee of $125, can play his (or her) way
into the field. If you put up the numbers, you're in. I did just
that on June 3, shooting a pair of 68s to win medalist honors in
the sectional qualifier in Atlanta, where two of 42 players
earned a trip to the Open.
That was the biggest thrill of my life, in what has already been
a pretty good year. I won the Tennessee high school championship
for a second season in a row, but my buddies were really psyched
when I told them I was going to try to qualify for the U.S. Open.
(Now my phone is ringing off the hook because everyone wants
tickets.) Even though I felt ready to step up to the next level
when I arrived at Settindown Creek Golf Club on the morning of
the Open sectional, I have to admit it was a thrill just to hit
balls on the range next to Tour players like Billy Andrade and
Matt Kuchar. Fortunately for me, once the tournament was under
way, I didn't think about any of that. I know it's a cliche, but
it's true: By playing one shot at a time and not worrying about
where I stood, I put up a couple of pretty good scores. Still, I
didn't know I was the medalist--or even in the Open--until I was
off the golf course.
I was a little starstruck when I later bumped into Mr. Andrade,
whom I had beaten by a shot. But he couldn't have been more
gracious. He congratulated me and said, "Why aren't you going to
Wake Forest?" I told him that I loved Nashville, where I'll be
playing for Vanderbilt in the fall. Since Mr. Andrade earned the
other qualifying spot, he gave me his phone number, and we'll be
playing a practice round this week at the Open.
June 15, 2003
He and I should have a pretty good gallery. My mom and dad aren't
big golfers--they were All-America swimmers at North
Carolina--but they've been super supportive of my goals. My
grandfather Robert Brown, who was a college golfer at Tennessee,
taught me the game and has remained the biggest influence in my
career. He's 71 now and has a little trouble walking golf courses
all day long, but he'll be with me at Olympia Fields, as will my
parents. My dream? Mr. Andrade finishes second at the Open, and
my family gets to see me beat him one more time.