Rick Reilly, the Road Hole and the Story That Inspired Me to Become a Golf Writer

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If you’re a golfer, you don’t need to be told what hole this is.

I’ve known what I wanted to do with my career ever since I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to be a sportswriter.

That dream was realized shortly thereafter when I started writing for the sports section of the local daily back in Iowa. It manifested itself more fully after I enrolled at Iowa State University. I soon found myself covering college football and basketball and even the NCAA Tournament, making me realizing how attainable my sports writing dreams really were.

The fodder for those dreams was something that arrived in the mailbox of our farmhouse in rural Iowa every week: Sports Illustrated. Without him knowing it at the time, my dad’s subscription was delivering sports writing textbooks to our door, and I was going to school. I read every issue cover to cover, even when the sport/topic (tennis, curling, fencing, etc.) didn’t interest me. I wanted to learn every literary trick and secret possible from those pages and was willing to search every paragraph and sentence to find it.

My thirst for SI continued into college, where I had my own subscription. I continued to pour over every piece and dream of the day my sports writing copy might match those pages.

Where golf comes into this story is a piece Rick Reilly wrote about attempting to par the infamous Road Hole at St. Andrews in advance of the British Open. I know I’d read golf pieces prior, but this the only one I can recall. The important thing is that it probably ranks among the 10 most influential pieces I’ve ever read. At the time, I only dabbled in actually playing the game and would watch the majors on TV. Golf didn’t bat nearly as high in the sports order for me as it does now.

Reilly’s piece made me realize, however, how fun writing about golf could be.

The gist of the story, which was published in July of 1995, was Reilly making a bet with a friend that he could par the Road Hole, widely regarded as the world’s toughest par 4. So Reilly booked a room at the Old Course Hotel and set out to do it, although noting he hadn’t made one single tee time.

What followed was Reilly flailing and failing, making all the classic strategic errors players have historically made at No. 17. After each failed attempt, Reilly would retreat to a local pub in search of a sage local caddie, Tip Anderson, who knew the secret to parring the Road Hole. He had caddie for major champions – Tom Watson, I believe – and was thereby the de factor Yoda of the Old Course.

(I should note that my original intent was to paste a link to the story. The SI Vault though at the moment seems to be working about as well as Al Capone’s. I was able to find a cached version of the story, but only able to access the first page. If you want to try, the article is headlined, “Road Test.” Search Road Hole, St. Andrews and Rick Reilly and you’ll find it quickly.)

Reilly’s search for Tip, and par, continues in vain until he’s down to his final round. He finally tracks down Anderson and gleans the wisdom of how to play the Road Hole, which generally goes like this: “If you play it for a three, you’ll make a five. But if you play it for a five, you just might make a four.”

That’s probably not 100 percent, but it’s close: Basically don’t attack it and end up on the road or in the feared Road Hole bunker.

Anywhere, here’s where the story really gets my sportswriter goose bumps going. To play the hole the final time, Reilly sneaks on the course and claims to make par – using Tip’s advice – just before security escorts him off the course.

I rediscovered the Reilly’s piece years ago in SI’s online archives – to quote “American Pie”: “God bless the Internet.” –  and had revisited it often, especially since my own move into the golf writing arena basically a year ago after relocating to California.

I’d been looking forward to writing this post since I started the blog and was waiting for the British, but Reilly’s recently announced retirement from sports writing (he was at ESPN) gives this another point of relevance.

For those who of you who didn’t grow up to do what I do (have done), Reilly’s retirement probably means little to you, but for me it matters just as much as an athlete like Michael Jordan or Walter Payton calling it a career. Those who recall reading Reilly at SI probably remember his columns, which followed his days as a long-form writer. Those days are when Reilly really shined and expanded what was possible. He and Gary Smith writing bonus pieces (the long take-outs at the back of the magazine) were like having a features line-up of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. One of them, or both, took it over the wall every issue.

When Reilly was limited to columns, it was like telling Michael Jordan to only be a jump shooter. Still effective and creative in that role, but not as breath-taking as before.

Anyway, Reilly’s Road Hole piece was fun, funny, insightful and brilliantly told. For those who grew up on George Plimpton, this was Reilly doing his own “Paper Lion,” although tryying to a par a hole on a PGA course and trying to play QB for the Lions are two totally different animals of participatory journalism.

Reilly’s piece seemed a little Plimpton, a little Hunter S. Thompson, a little modern-day David Feherty and possibly a little Anthony Bourdain at present. Come to think of it, Reilly’s piece was probably the first travel story that really stuck with me as well.

I guess more than anything, the story showed me how far you really can go with sports writing and what a golden ticket being able to tell a story really can be. I’ve had my own Reilly-at-St.-Andrews moments in my career, although I’m still waiting for that moment in golf. I’ve got a few opportunities coming up, however.

Anyway, hopefully you can read the piece and, if you care, glean a little insight into why I like to do what I do and where I’d like to see it go.

(An aside: Since moving to CA, I’ve met people who have played the Old Course. My favorite story is from a local pro who told me: “You know what isn’t awesome about the Old Course? Nothing. There’s nothing that isn’t awesome about the Old Course.”)

I hope to understand that statement even more fully in the future. The closest I’ve come is playing a replica of the Road Hole at Royal Links in Las Vegas. For the record, I parred it, carving a draw around the sign welcoming you to the course right into the fairway.

Just as St. Andrews is a bucket-list course for every golfer alive, Reilly’s piece is a bucket-list read for me. So obviously if you enjoy reading about the game as much as you do playing it, it’s worth your while to track it down.

If the SI Vault works out its glitch, I’ll repost the story on the blog in full. Thanks for reading and for all the support. I’ve enjoyed, and appreciated, every word of it. It’s a joy and privilege to be able to do what you love to do.

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A Little Piece of Personal Publishing History

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This is the latest cover of Southland Golf, which scored me my first cover story out here, a feature on Callaway Golf Marketing VP Harry Arnett. I’ll get the articles and links posted at the end of the week when the digital issue will hopefully be available.

I started writing for Southland Golf a year ago and this was favorite issue yet for several reasons. I got to work with two of my former mentors at the Golf Academy (Senior Instructor Mike Flanagan and Mark Hayden, now the GM at Eagle Crest) and make two new connections (Harry and Susan Roll of the Carlsbad Golf Center) I’d been wanting to make for a while. 

Hope you enjoy the issue.

Friday Photo Post: The San Diego County Fair

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Just going to do a quick photo post today. That preening fellow above is on display at the San Diego County Fair, which runs through July 6th.

There are several reasons I love this fair, but I’ll just give you two.

1. The fair was one of the first things I did after I moved here, so it gives me fond memories of my introduction to San Diego. And the fair was much more rural than I expected, which …

2. … Speaks to me, because I’m a farm kid. This event takes me back to my roots and gives me a little of what I’d have in Iowa in San Diego. I actually used to show livestock in the fairs in Iowa, one of the talents you won’t discover on my resume.

Anyway, going this week makes it three years straight, which is the closest thing I’ve established out here to a tradition. So go, enjoy, eat too much and embrace a great event in San Diego.

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The Joy of Being Taught

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          About a year ago right now, I was just beginning a six-month stretch of what would produce the best golf of my life. Great courses. Career rounds. Shot after shot that I still see in my dreams, and putts that found the hole more often than not. I experienced it all.

          A year later? Not so much. My opportunities to golf are still great, but my ability to take advantage of them and play golf at a high level is not.

          My alibi for the state of my game is something I’ve come to term “the Golf Academy hangover.” It’s what happens when you don’t hit 100 practice balls a day and get to see yourself on video as I did for my two semesters attending the academy.

          To try to rediscover my old game, I finally called on my former mentor, Mike Flanagan, this week to look at my swing. Another instructor started the crafting of my new swing at school, but Flanagan, as he does for many, finished it.

          And, sure enough, within 15 minutes at the range on Tuesday, he had me hitting balls like my old self.

          Besides helping me recapture a little lost joy for the game, the whole experienced reminded me what I miss most about school: the lessons.

          I used to have one every week, sometimes two. Those were the moments where the magic happened. In those 20-30 minutes, you got a glimpse of what you were capable of and what your instructors knew, and you learned how good they were at relaying it. In that regard, every lesson was two lessons in one – if you were really paying attention – because this is what the school was supposed to be training you to do someday.

          I’ve written a little on the blog about some of my lesson experiences in school, but I literally could probably sit here and pound out posts for hours recalling certain great teaching moments. Those moments were what school was all about for me. They were much more fun than the tournaments or even the open rounds with friends.

          My lessons with Flanagan in particular were a joy as I not only routinely got better, but I would take it to the course that afternoon and have immediate results. As anyone who has taken lessons knows, that’s not always the case. But with Flanagan it was. And if I couldn’t play that day, I’d at least go to the range and enjoy what new gift my swing had been given that day.

          For those who don’t know him, Mike Flanagan is the senior-most instructor at the Golf Academy and a revered figure in San Diego teaching circles. He’s a bit like the Obi Wan-Kenobi/Yoda/Mr. Miyagi – chose your sage movie mentor – of the school. You know when go to see Flanagan you’re going to get one thing about your swing – the truth.

          Students at the school will tell you that if you’re not ready to hear that about your swing, you’re not ready for him to teach you. But eventually you look forward to hearing the truth – as I did Tuesday – and know it’s the fastest way to improvement. It’s like agreeing with the doctor on the diagnosis so you can move on to the treatment that will give you the cure.

          The truth with Flanagan arrives straightforward and usually quickly, after just a few swings. On Tuesday, I was describing the recent failed experiment with changing my grip and some other mechanical faults – things I never worried about, by the way, when I was playing well – when Flanagan hit me with truth.

          “I want you to forget about all that and focus on the target. You’re way too mechanical right now. I just want you to focus and swing.”

          And sure enough, within a few swings, my hook was gone and I was dropping balls next to the 150-yard mark Flanagan had told me to focus on. It wasn’t quite magic, but it was a start. The magic would come next.

          Flanagan got inside my grip and changed the two things – the placement of my left pinkie and left thumb – that had been causing me to close the club face. After a few swings to get comfortable, I was making flush contact again and flying the 150 sign with my 7 -iron as I would’ve in my prime of last year.

          He then taught me a method for “feeling” that grip every time and before every swing so I can easily replicate it. And like that, I had my old grip back.

          Of course, there was more work to be done, but that was the start. The relationship of the club face to the ball is the most important element of the golf swing.

          Praise with Flanagan is never effusive, but it’s there. And it sometimes arrives as a back-handed compliment, as it did Tuesday.

 “I don’t care that you’re over the line, past parallel and your left arm is breaking down a bit; we both know you can that club face back to square and hit good golf shots,” he said.

For the rest of the lesson, we mostly worked on tempo and regaining the pause in my backswing so I could load properly for the forward swing. And soon I was effortlessly flying balls to the back of the range. And effortless, by the way, is what the best golf feels like, and my swing had become anything but. Tortured and laborious would be just a few words to describe what I had been doing through.

The bigger gifts of my lesson on Tuesday were hope and confidence that I can play the game again the way I used to. That might take few more lessons and little more practice, but it’s worth it to experience the game that way again.

 And that’s also something that I wish more golfers could experience. For all that we’re told ails the game (cost, time, pace, etc.), the elephant in the room is that many people don’t play very well. All the evidence of that you need is a walk to your local driving range. You’ll such much more wrong that right.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. I wish the barriers (money, time, etc.) to people taking lessons were less so people would enjoy the game more. Because thinking you’ll figure this stuff out on your own, for most of us, is like trying to perform your own brain surgery or build your own car – it just isn’t happening.

The swing is too complicated and too technical and, as my experience shows, too tough to self-police to figure it all out on your own. Training aids, golf magazines, YouTube and all that can help you a little, but without a foundation in the fundaments you won’t get very far.

But beyond just playing better, lessons are fun, especially once the frustration of the struggle and the self-imposed pressure to perform are removed. And once you get to a certain stage in life, how many things are you still being taught to do? Unless you’ve signed up for a cooking class or personally training, chances are not much. And if you’re a parent, you’re likely the one doing the teaching now.

My most teachable role has been as an editor. I consider one of my abilities as a writer the ability to teach it to others. I’ve helped numerous people, especially those who didn’t think they could write or write well, do this. I think that’s a gift.

Moreover, I not only can help you write, I can help you write like you, which not everyone can do. Others can make you write like them, the equivalent of a method teacher in golf.

That’s not Flanagan. He makes you swing like you. And moreover, a better you than you maybe imagined.

We’ll start finding out today whether I can take it to the course, but I’ll at last tee it up with the belief that I can and a plan. And’s more than I had before Tuesday.

JC Golf: U.S. Open Preview & Picks By The Pros

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          As the year’s second major, the U.S. Open, arrives, storylines abound that, refreshingly, don’t involve Tiger Woods.

Unlike the Masters, Woods’ absence at Pinehurst has been barely a blip on the media radar this week. Instead, players who are actually playing in the tournament have been the storyline and, of course, the course itself.

According to my golf-centric Twitter feed, these are the lead stories going into the tournament.

  1. Can Phil Mickelson complete his career Grand Slam?

After his win at the British Open last year, Mickelson has now won them all, save for the Open, at which he’s finish second an incredible six times, including at Pinehurst 15 years ago. Despite his clout of having won five majors, a Mickelson victory seems a bit unlikely when you consider his atypically quiet year on Tour. And he’s tinkering with his putting grip (going to the claw), which is already drawing doubters. As one columnist wrote, “There goes Mickelson, out-thinking himself again.”

But a Mickelson victory would certain give the Tour season a shot in the arm. As would …

2. Will Jordan Spieth Finally Break Through?

The Next Big Thing in golf would erase the “Next” with a major championship. To do it, he’ll have to learn to close, something he’s been unable to do thus far this season. But after finishing second to Bubba Watson at the Masters, a breakthrough at the U.S. Open would announce an arrival that seems inevitable. But as Jack Nicklaus says of Tiger Woods’ major chase: You haven’t done it until you’ve done it.

3. A Classic Venue Restored

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore oversaw a $2.5 million renovation of the No. 2 course to restore it to the original Donald Ross design and a more natural state. Among other things, that meant removing turf and restoring bunkers and waste areas. As a result, this Open isn’t expected to play like an Open in that it won’t have ankle-high rough. However, in the practice rounds the pros have reported that the greens have been tough to hit, thus the winner’s chance possible riding on a strong short game, which (back to No. 1) … hello, Lefty.

But the course setup has some forecasting controversy …

4.  Could We See A Rules Controversy Like the 2010 PGA?

The 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits is where a rules controversy erased Dustin Johnson’s best chance at a major victory. He grounded his club in what he believed to be a waste area instead of a bunker. He thus invoked a two-stroke penalty that cost him the championship.   

Similar course conditions at Pinehurst abound, meaning the rules official is certain to get a workout this week. Something to watch for, but here’s hoping we don’t have another major overshadowed by a rules controversy.

There’s also the chance for Bubba Watson to notch a second major and really put some sizzle into the Tour season. But none of our JC pros chose him. Their picks are listed below.

Erik Johnson, General Manager, Encinitas Ranch

Rory McIlroy – I think he has momentum on his side and his game 9and mind) are now sharp enough to return to top form

Adam Scott – He has become one of the most consistent players on the planet (hence his No. 1 world ranking), he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game, so if the putter is working he should be a favorite

Long Shot…..Webb Simpson – Wait a second, a former champion as a long-shot?  After the 2012 championship, his game has fallen off, but he is getting hot at the right time and has the experience to prevail.

Jay Navarro, Tournament Director, Temecula Creek Inn –

Webb Simpson – Played well in the FedEx.

Troy Ferguson, Head Golf Professional, Twin Oaks –

Graham DeLaet. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Blake Dodson, Director of Golf, Rancho Bernardo Inn

Jordan Spieth – Too young to be scared of the U.S. Open.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Reidy Creek and Oaks North

Sergio Garcia – My wife’s favorite.

The Midwest – Somewhere In Middle America

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To many people I meet, this would be an answer key

          I’m from Iowa, or as it’s known in California – Idaho. Or Illinois. Or Ohio. Or really any somewhat centralized state between, say, Canada and Texas.

This blog post was inspired by people I’ve met recently from Michigan and Wisconsin who live in California and have had similar experiences to my own. And this is meant in no way to be a complaint about the status quo; it’s simply a statement of fact, one I’ve just learned to accept in my two years now of living here.

You quickly learn native Californians know relatively little about the Midwest, and this applies to some of the transplants to. For instance, someone who moved here from Connecticut years ago introduced me to friends three times one night as being from Idaho. No anyone asked me any potato questions so I just let it pass.

I do the same now when people ask where I went to school. I tell them “Iowa State” and they reply, “Go Buckeyes!” Sigh. That’s Ohio State.

And this is how it goes.

I’ve decided that my part of the Midwest may as well be called the Vowel Belt because people out here seriously could look at a map and not correctly identify Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, etc. Of this, I’m fairly certain.

And truth is, if I was from California, I probably wouldn’t know either. Why would you? Why would you ever leave here?

But that only makes it all the more refreshing when you do run into a Midwesterner out here who does know where you’re from. It feels a bit like homecoming when it happens.

The interaction commonly goes like this: You acknowledge you know where the other person’s state is, and possibly even the city they’re from. You share whether you’ve visited there or not. If you have, you share a story (for instance about going to Wrigley Field if they’re from Illinois). Then you immediately commiserate about how much you don’t miss winter, which leads inevitably to a discussion about how great life is out here. And so forth.

Sometimes it goes beyond that, but that’s the base offense.

Whereas when I meet a Californian and tell them I’m from Iowa, the reply is often silence or a blank stare, but rarely an association. And that’s OK. It just is how it is.

Compared to shoveling snow, golfing in oppressive heat and humidity and the other factors that make people flee life in the Midwest, you would categorize this as little more than an inconvenience.

Life in California is largely a day at the beach. Even when you’re from Idaho.

The Story Behind My Masters Ball

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      Masters fever has officially set in. Seeing as I can’t watch it yet, I can at least write about it, and this will be brief because I’ve only got one story to tell. It’s about the ball pictured above.

      The photo above probably leads you to believe I have been to the Masters. Sadly, I have not. The closest I’ve been is that souvenir ball, which a grateful and generous story subject gave to me after I wrote about his trip to Augusta. The significance of the story was that my friend had gone to the Masters and thus completed his own Grand Slam by having attended all four majors.

      At the time, that made him the coolest person on the planet to me, so I wrote about him for the travel section of the magazine I edited at the time. I now know many people who’ve made the hallowed journey, but at the time, he was about the only one. He told the usual stories about the landscape being so pristine it didn’t seem real, about the iconic Butler Cabin clubhouse and about eating a pimento sandwich. (For the record, that’s now two pimento sandwich references in the blog. Who ever saw that coming?)

      Anyway, the story I remember most is about him attending a day where they had a split start due to weather, meaning one round needed to be finished before the next could begin. He staked out Amen Corner and watched like five or six groups come through, as I recall, and each group had player put a ball in the water on the par-3 12th, where famously Fred Couples’ ball resisted that fate and basic physics during his victory in 2002.

     The detail I recall most is that after the groups came through, prior to the third round, the landscape crews who’d shaved the bank that morning, about 90 minutes after doing so the first time came out and shaved the bank … again. To anyone who knows about course set up, this is rather commonplace, but back then it just seemed a juicy detail and fun and part of the lore of Augusta.

    The story ended with my friend noting a player in each of the first six groups of the next round each went in the water. And that was that. I don’t keep much of my old stuff, but that’s one story I kinda of wish I still had hanging around. Oh, well. I’ve still got the ball. And now a blog post.

     Is it Thursday yet?

Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Aviara

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The view of No. 18 from last year’s tournament

         As finishing holes go in San Diego, few, if any, come much tougher than No. 18 at Aviara.

         This dogleg right par-4 wraps around a lake that runs along most of the fairway and to the green, providing a serene and aesthetically pleasing finish, but also one that’s been known to swallow a lot of golf balls.

This hole was a major factor in the LPGA’s KIA Classic last year and not just because it hosted the two-hole playoff won by Beatriz Recari. It played as the toughest hole of the tournament, averaging well over par.

Aviara Director of Golf Renny Brown says the hole plays unusually tough for the tournament because of a unique circumstance.

“From the fairway, the grandstand build-out blocks the wind, so the flag doesn’t move. A lot of girls were coming up short last year because when the ball would get above the grandstand, the wind would knock it down,” Brown says. “They had trouble gauging the wind.”

The wind on 18 blows off the Pacific Ocean and Batiquitos lagoon, making it play even longer than the 413 yards from the blue tees, which is what the Kia uses.

The tee shot alone is challenge here to say the least. Besides water on your right, you’ve got out of bounds and bunkers lurking on your left. With the wind blowing, this fairway can feel very small.

According to a review of Aviara at worldgolf.com, Arnold Palmer once described this as the toughest finishing hole he’s ever designed.

It quoted Palmer as saying, “You have the lagoon on the left and a pond and waterfall to the right. Even if you hit a strong drive, you have to think on the approach, because the fairway narrows to 20 yards.

“It took me a long time to realize you need to be safe and go for the back of the green (on your second shot) to stay away from the water.”

At the Kia media day, Recari offered her professional opinion on how to play 18 from the tee.

“You have to play to the right, just inside the bunker,” Recari says. “I usually hit driver, but I hit 3-wood there last year (in the playoff) because the wind was up.

“If you land it to the right of that bunker, you’ve got a good chance.”

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         Recari plays a draw, as do I, which makes a driver a nervous play here for me. I took Recari’s advice on media day and pulled 3-wood. I hit the best shot I’ve ever hit on 18 and, though a little too close to the lake, I had 160 to get home and a good lie. And then … yank. OB.

I’ve done this the last three times (grrr) I’ve had played this hole. I suspect the wind is at work, though it mostly factors in in that it leaves me one club longer than what I’d prefer – my 7 iron.

Therefore, unfortunately, I can’t speak to going for birdie or par here, but Brown has a tip about reading putts on 18.

“Forget about putts breaking to the ocean,” he says. “Once you’re standing on the green, look back toward the fairway and use that tilt to judge the putt.”

Speaking of putts, new this year is a plaque on 18 honoring where Recari hit her winning putt from the fringe last year.

As well all know, hitting Aviara’s helipad-size green is one thing; putting them is another.

And given how straight the female Tour players hit it, putting is everything at the Kia, Brown says.

“The winner out here is going to be someone who’s top five in putting,” he says. “The greens are so massive out here that it becomes a putting contest.”

While 18 has a fierce reputation, Brown says it’s actually the second of closing one-two punch for the women, given that No. 17, a par-5, is the longest hole on the LPGA at 565 yards.

That leaves the drivable par-4 16th as the best last stand for birdie. Because if it comes down to 18, you’re really going to earn it.

For my part, I plan to stake out 18 this week until I see a birdie, just to see what one looks like there. And while I’m waiting, maybe I’ll go see if any of my old approach shots are still buried beneath the brush on the Batiquitos trail.

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When I Knew I Wanted To Write About Golf

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My work space this week

Please excuse the personal post, but this week is a fairly big week for me professionally in that it’s one of those rare times where vision and dreams become reality.

I picked up my press passes and various other media materials for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines today and started to plot my week.

Seeing as I was a sportswriter for about 15 years to start my career, and I did cover a string of tournaments on the Nationwide Tour, this whole experience isn’t entirely new to me, but we are talking about the PGA Tour here and that is new, and that’s also part of the dream that brought me to California.

The dream began when a friend from high school who now lives in Chicago invited me to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights in Kohler, Wisc., in 2010 – you know the one where Dustin Johnson had his “sand trap” trouble?

I’d dreamed of going to be a PGA Tour event, any event really, so having a Major fall into my lap was fairly incredible and exciting even for someone who normally doesn’t get that excited about attending sporting events anymore because of burnout from my career past.

Anyway, before Dustin Johnson made some unfortunate golf history, he changed my life.

The day of the tournament, we walked on to the course in the morning and spent the first part of the day trying to get the lay of the course and get any glimpse of the top Tour talent – Tiger, Daly, Phil, etc. – we could.

We had a pretty good luck, but our best luck came in the afternoon after the crowds had cleared a bit and we had sat down alongside the fairway of a par-4 along Lake Michigan.

We watched about five groups come through and then suddenly two tee balls landed well beyond where any group had been before. Kind of like the tremors in the water glasses in “Jurassic Park,” we knew big hitters were coming over that hill.

It turned out to be Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson.  It was doubly good fortune in that Els was the hot guy at the time and making a run for the day one lead.

Well, we watched them play out the hole and then decided to follow them.

Having birdied the previous hole, Els teed off first on a dog-leg par-5 that was routed around a pond, some scrub and, it being Whistling Straits, naturally some sand traps.

Els played the hole straightaway and fired his tee shot down the fairway. Our group of four had taken up a position to to the right of the tee box. We were talking amongst ourselves when we simultaneously relived we were in imminent danger: Dustin Johnson’s tee shot was aimed at our heads.

One thing to know about watching Johnson live: Don’t blink. He plays fast and hardly takes practice swings.

On this beast of a hole, unfathomably and unpredictably Johnson was aimed to cut the corner. Before any of us could say a word or breath, much less move, Johnson fired. His ball shot straight overhead and it was like we’d just all had our towers buzzed like in “Top Gun.” We heard the ball spinning furiously overhead.

We all exhaled, realized we were still alive and then laughed a bit nervously about the hole ordeal before group curiosity set in about the destination of Johnson’s tee shot.

We tromped through the grassland around the pond before finally emerging at the fairway to discover one very bewildered spotter looking at the golf ball at her feet. She pointed and asked, “Where did this come from?”

We answered, “The tee.”

She asked, “Who?”

We replied, “Dustin Johnson.”

She simply gave an understanding nod.

I asked, “Anybody else try that?”

She said, “Yeah, one guy. Tiger.”

Me: “Where did he go?”

She pointed back up the fairway and into the pond, OB.

Here’s what Johnson had just done: He carried a ball an insane distance of 375 yards into a 25-yard landing strip. He was about to play a heavy duty par-5 on a major championship driver/wedge.

We missed it that night, but apparently the Golf Channel did an entire segment about this shot.

My all-time list of awesome athletic displays I’ve witnessed live reads like this:

–       John Elway throwing a football.

–       Mark McGwire hitting a baseball.

–       Michael Johnson running.

–       Dustin Johnson hitting that drive.

As the awesomeness of what I’d just witnessed soaked in, I decided then and there I needed to be around this great game played at the highest levels a lot more often.

I’d already been traveling to LA regularly to see a friend and was pondering my own California plan when Johnson hit that shot and kind of wrote the script for me.

I looked into the golf industry and jobs within the golf industry and decided it was time to get back into sports writing but in a way totally different than before. And here we are.

Nine months of golf magazine writing and five months of blogging later, I’m more ready than ever to go to work this week.

That work is very much a work in progress as I aim to provided coverage to complement the TV coverage of the tournament, but I have no doubt it’ll work itself out.

I’ll looking forward to a great week and sharing what I can with you during a pretty awesome time for me professionally

Stay tuned.