I have John Daly to thank for my Nationwide tour debut. John invited me to have lunch with him and a few friends during last year's Target World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where I'm a member. One of them, Chris Leggio, was the sponsor of the Nationwide's Mark Christopher Charity Classic at Empire Lakes Golf Club in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He said he'd love to have me come over and play a couple of songs at the tournament. Then John said, "Hey, if he's going to do that, give him a tee time."
So I performed at the fund-raiser, and that was nothing but birdies and eagles--I don't bogey the sax. The golf was a different story. I'm a scratch golfer based on my scores from the blue tees at Sherwood. Put me on the back tees on a course where the rough is really high and the greens are fast, and it's a different story. The first two rounds were the most difficult golf I've ever played. I shot 82-83 on the 7,017-yard, par-71 Empire Lakes course and missed the cut by 23 strokes.
I'm not embarrassed by my scores, but I was shocked by how fast they climbed. I would hit a good drive, miss the fairway by a couple of feet, and my ball would be sitting in a well of grass. All I could do was wedge out. I'm a really good putter on a green that rolls 8.5 on the Stimpmeter, but these greens were 11.5. I had five three-putts the first day and four the second. I didn't know how to be aggressive, and I didn't know how to lag. As Nationwide regular Jim McGovern said to me, "Welcome to our world."
I made one birdie. On the second day I hit a 60-degree wedge stiff on the 533-yard, par-5 5th and made the putt. The best moment, though, was on the final hole, a 215-yard par-3 over water. Chip Beck was behind the green waiting for me. After I made a par, he congratulated me and said, "It takes a lot of guts to do what you're doing." All the players welcomed me, and we raised more money for charity than the tournament ever had before.
It went so well that they've already given me an exemption for next year. I know what I have to do to prepare. I'm going to play the tips at Sherwood. I'm going to practice hitting out of the rough. I'm going to get a synthetic putting green at home and have it calibrated to 11.5 or 12. I also have to get longer. Those guys were two clubs longer than me. The second I got home, I went to the gym and started working out.
I'll be ready next time. I have to. I've already bet five friends $100 each that I'll make the cut.
by JIM GORANT
The useless playoff system in singles will be but a memory by the next Presidents Cup.