I can also be found at Rotoworld.com and on Twitter @RyanGolfBlogger.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From Novice to The Golf Aficionado

I did not grow up with a golf club in my hand, and I can’t tell you what the first golf tournament I watched was, when or where I swung a club for the first time, or when I developed a casual interest in golf.  I have never played a round of golf with my father, and feel confident that I never will since I’m not sure he’s played in my lifetime and I’m pretty sure he’s given his clubs away. 
Instead, many of the memories I have about golf have taken place over the last 10 to 15 years.  From a playing standpoint, I remember the first time a made a par on a par 4 was the summer after my freshman year of college (2000) on the 16th hole of Carolina Country Club (now the 7th as they flipped the 9’s).  My first birdie of any sort not on a Par 3 course was on a Par 3 at Green Valley Country Club a year ago next week (4 iron to 4 feet).  I birdied my first Par 5 several weeks ago at Thornblade Club on the 16th (Driver / 4 Wood / 3 Hybrid to 12 feet).  All of this is why you’ll never catch me giving playing advice.  I am proud to have my handicap down to a 23.4. 
From a spectator’s standpoint, I can trace my following of golf to my sophomore year of high school when a confident, bordering on cocky, kid named D.J. Trahan moved to my high school from Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Over the course of the next three years, it was kind of hard not to notice when state championship banners and local sports news coverage begins to highlight one of your classmates.  D.J. made it to the match play portion of the U.S. Amateur, I believe when he was sixteen, and it was around that time I started paying attention to local golf.  Around the same time, we also had a teacher / coach start at our school named Todd White who was strait off an extended stint on the then Nike (now Nationwide) Tour. 
At the conclusion of high school I ended up at Clemson University.  When I set foot on campus, I hadn’t heard of Larry Penley, Jonathan Byrd, Charles Warren, Lucas Glover, John Engler, Danny Ellis, Chris Patton, or Kevin Johnson; but all of that changed quickly enough.  It’s fun to pull for a winner, and I quickly found out that the Clemson golf program was much more prestigious than the basketball program.  While football is, and always will be, king at Clemson, Larry Penley’s golf program and Jack Leggett’s baseball program have a very strong following.  Coincidentally, the only national championship Clemson won in my 4 years as a student was the 2003 Golf National Championship.  While all the names I mentioned above laid the groundwork for that success, none of them played on that team.  The 2003 team was led by D.J. Trahan and the other competing members were Matt Hendrix, Gregg Jones, Jack Ferguson and Ben Duncan.  They beat an Oklahoma State team led by Hunter Mahan by two shots on Oklahoma State’s home course to win it.
Check out the NCAA final 2003 individual stroke averages taken from clemsontigers.com.  Any of these names look familiar?
Final 2003 Individual Rankings
Rk Player, School Points
1. Hunter Mahan, Oklahoma St. 68.69
2. D.J. Trahan, Clemson 69.22
3. Bill Haas, Wake Forest 69.57
4. Troy Matteson, Georgia Tech 69.60
5. Jack Ferguson, Clemson 69.62
6. Ricky Barnes, Arizona 69.65
7. Brandt Snedeker, Vanderbilt 69.82
8. Nick Watney, Fresno State 69.83
9. Matt Hendrix, Clemson 69.89
10. Chris Nallen, Arizona 69.95

As natural progression would have it, I began following my classmates as they entered the professional ranks.  I remember Jonathan Byrd winning the BMW Pro Am on the Buy.com (Nationwide) Tour and Charles Warren winning the same tournament the following year; launching each of their professional careers.  I remember having a conversation with D.J. Trahan during our junior year at Clemson when he was debating whether to go pro then or wait one more year, and he ultimately chose to stay.  His rationale was that he could get a better equipment deal if he waited another year.  When I asked him about Q School and the Nationwide Tour, he felt pretty sure he wouldn’t need those when he cashed in on his sponsor’s exemptions.  I guess the devil of the details proved that to be not quite accurate, but he’s had a very impressive PGA career with 2 wins and never losing his card once he got it. 
Once I graduated, I found myself becoming very interested in following the journey the not quite as well known Clemson grads were facing on the mini tour’s and Nationwide Tours.  That’s how I’ve stumbled on the Egolf Professional Tour (former Tarheel Tour), the Hooters Tour and some smaller ones than that like the Carolina’s Mountain Tour.  (Coincidentally, I was following the same thing with Clemson baseball players going through the minor leagues.)  I began to understand Monday qualifying, U.S. Open local and sectional qualifying and other things the casual golf fan doesn't know, or maybe doesn't care to know.
What stands out to me about golf more than other sports is that everyone seems to have a story.  Some are more dramatic than others like Erik Compton (heart transplant) and Kevin Hall (deaf), but there are plenty of people that are fun to pull for.  Sometimes when I’m watching a tournament I get excited seeing a blast from the past make a run, sometimes it’s a rookie making a statement or sometimes it’s Tiger blowing away a field.  But, I always first and foremost pull for my Clemson Tigers on Tour.  It’s generally served me well.  The only time I’ve not known who to pull for was at this year’s Wells Fargo when Jonathan Byrd faced off against Lucas Glover in a playoff.  The irony was that Glover beating Byrd might have cost Byrd a spot on the President’s Cup.
As you read my blog, this should provide a little insight about where I’m coming from on various points of view.  I’m also weighing the idea of a spin off blog to focus on golfers with ties to the Palmetto State (South Carolina).  I haven’t decided if I want to devote some time and space on The Golf Aficionado to lopsidedly cover the Clemson guys, as well as people like Bill Haas, Dustin Johnson and Will McGirt, or if I want to keep this site a little less biased and devote a second site to that. 
Feel free to chime in if you have a suggestion! 

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