A student asked me a while back when I most felt in …
The first thing that would come to mind would be my play at the US Amateur in 1983.
I was just 19 at the time, I qualified in Hawaii to get their only spot, that I had to win in sudden death playoff. I qualified for the match play after some decent golf, and then won my first match which was a tough one. The second match I played, I beat former Champion Nathanial Crosby, which was particularly tough because everyone was rooting for him, being the son of the beloved Bing Crosby. The strangest match was against Billy Andrade. We were both really off that day. For some reason I couldn’t do anything but hook by driver. I don’t think I hit one fairway.
Billy has the opposite action going and was blocking every drive way right. This being a USGA Championship, the rough was really high, but no matter where I hit, I seemed to end up with a good lie and a shot at the green. Every time I hooked it left, into the deep trees, I would find it, and have a decent lie, and some kind of daylight shot at the green. Even my caddy was laughing! If there were ever mystical forces working out on the course it must have been that day.
Andrade was not so fortunate as he kept having to punch out and scrape for par or bogey. We only had to play 13 holes and I won the match 6 and 5.
Back in those days the final four players got invitations to play in the US Masters, so you can imagine how difficult it could be to get a good night’s sleep, yet alone getting one step closer to winning such an event. The quarter final match I faced Chris Perry who was the collegiate player of the year and had won 7 events that year. I really felt a bit out of my league, but I straightened out my driver and played a hell of a round against Perry rolling in a 15 foot birdie on the 17 to go one up going into the 18th, a long 4 par.
The stage was set after I hit a 4 wood to 40 feet on the left fringe.
Perry hit a long iron in above the hole about 30 feet. I putted up to about a foot good for par. Perry’s putt was straight downhill with about 8 feet of break, one of those “just get it rolling” kind of putts.
I can remember it as clear as day, thinking there is no way he is going to make this putt. I was so confident I had won the match, and a ticket to Magnolia Lane at Augusta. I remember him hitting the putt and watching Titleist rolling around the ball in a circle, it started way left, then took the break ever so slowly, rolling toward the hole.
I remember him raising his putter as it was about 6 feet away, and I watched it drop into the cup, and he was jumping around the green like he had made the greatest putt of all time. It really was incredible, and really tough to get composure for the playoff, but I still had a chance to win.
I remember being so pumped up, and actually believing I could beat this guy, I drove it 40 yards past him and had only a wedge left into a
444 yard 1rst hole. I must have driven the ball 320 yards with a piece of persimmon. Perry hit first, a 7 iron onto the front edge. I fired a wedge at the pin that landed 6 feet from the pin, but hit firm and bounced into the back rough leaving a tough downhill chip. Perry was away and putted up to about a foot, for par. My chip was played nicely landing on the fringe and trickling down the fast green stopping 6 feet past the hole. This time things didn’t go so well and my putt hit the right lip and spun out giving Chris the win. To think I was so close to getting a chance to play in the Masters was amazing
yet as one might imagine, very disappointing. It really was a tough way to lose because I really played out of my head and surprised myself by staying in “the zone” all week right to the finish. The 73rd hole I played well, even the putt was struck well and could have gone in. I still to this day wish I was talking about my experience at the 1984 Masters, rather than my defeat at North Shore CC in Chicago!
Nonetheless, this was the week that stands out as my most in “The Zone”