Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Justin Peters: Chasing the PGA Tour continued

Another installment on Justin Peters, aspiring PGA Tour pro as he tries to realize his goal of making the PGA Tour as a full time member. He is in the field for this week's U.S. Bank Classic.

Monday qualifiers for PGA Tour events are about players on the outside of the tour, either chasing down their dream of making the tour like Justin or trying to get back into the game like former PGA Tour player Mac O’Grady. Both were out there attempting to qualify for this week’s PGA Tour event, the U.S. Bank Championship at Brown Deer Park Golf Course.

"It's all about catching lightning in the bottle," Justin said as he qualified by shooting 3-under-par 69 at Fire Ridge Golf Club to get one of four available spots. Justin, who is from Plantation, Florida, recorded seven birdies over the 7,049-yard Fire Ridge layout. This was the ninth PGA Tour Monday qualifier he has attempted this year and his second PGA event he’s qualified for. The Booz Allen Classic here in DC back in June was the other PGA Tour event Justin played in.

"This is a tough way to make a living and if you're not doing well, it's probably not worth doing," he said. "But I look at each one of these (Monday qualifiers) as a mini Q School. This is great preparation for when I go to qualifying school this fall."

For O’Grady, a two time winner on the PGA Tour in the '80’s, things didn’t work out. He shot 71 and did not qualify.

Mark Farnham, who is caddying for Justin this week, recapped the qualifier and Justin's preparation.

It was a very difficult day out there. Fire Ridge played hard and long, and it was one windy and wicked day. Justin made 7 birdies, and 4 bogies... and shot 69 and tied for medalist. Justin grinded it out and finished off his round with a great birdie on #9, Justin's last hole of the day as he started off on the back nine. Standing on the tee, he said that he thought he needed to make birdie to avoid a playoff, and he piped a drive right down the middle. A wedge to 15 feet in windy conditions... and then while looking over the putt he looked at me and said "Here's where we find what kind of stuff I'm made of" and he stepped up and rolled it in center cut. A double fist pump, and then we waited to see if anyone would catch him. One player in the last Group matched him, and now it's off to the PGA TOUR for the week. It's an accomplishment just to win a qualifier against a group of hungry and solid players. That's all going to be put behind him now. He's been here before, just a few weeks back. This afternoon was about courtesy cars and knowing you belong. Tomorrow is about the day job... The fascination is over, it's time to punch the clock and get to work.

Tuesday arrives and we head to the course. This is where JP and I have to put up a little bit of our walls. He and I are friends, but I am now a caddy for the week and he is a tour player... so he heads off to grab some breakfast while I take the clubs down to the range and make sure the bag is ready for the day. We are going to play a practice round, so a basic warm up at the range is in order... and although the clubs are clean, I spend the time to make sure the grooves are spotless and everything is exactly where I want it. This is my office for the week, and as I am normally a CEO in real life... I like things in order. The range is starting to get a few players on it, but most of the activity is from the club manufacturers... they work the hardest at this hour.

The club manufacturers and their reps are there to service their players, and also scout for new players. Anything they need is available. Tour vans are there to make it on the spot, and every available combination imaginable is on offer. Prototypes you haven't heard of are dangled in front of pro's hands, and techs are constantly making clubs all day.

I hear a fun conversation from an agent talking to another agent about one of his players from the qualifier, and about that "guy" Peters who shot 69 to get in again. I was pretty proud to be standing there with his bag when they turned around a few minutes later and realized I was hearing their conversation and who I was.

A bit later, Justin arrives...The range is now getting pretty busy, and we settle in next to David Frost, and Justin sends me over to get range balls. On the Tour, they actually have balls from each maker... and all pristine. Justin asked me to get Titleist with red numbers... and that's what I asked for and they gave me. Everything is in order. Justin works through his usual warm up routine, although a bit more brief than normal as this was a practice round and the opportunity to hit multiple shots was there... and off we head to the first tee.

At the first hole, we walk up and standing there is Bill Haas and his caddy who invite us to join him for a practice round. Off we go on our first view of the course, and my first trip inside the ropes. Brown Deer Park is a big place, but a fair course with thick rough right off the fairway. Scoring is going to be low here, and Justin is going to have to find fairways and greens to do well this week. Scrambling will not be easy here, but that isn't the name of the game at this level.

Bill is a fantastic player. He and his caddy were a real joy to play with. Very nice people, and made the round a pleasure. At the turn, we were joined by Dan Forsman and continued on through the practice round with Justin trying a few different shots here and there. The thing about a practice round is that you don't really have your focus, so you'll hit a bad shot, then you drop another ball and you laser it right in.

Justin seems relaxed and the course suits him. His drives work L to R and this course favors that flight which is an advantage, as there are few if any draw holes. Several of the holes on the course require an iron or fairway metal off the tee, and a lot of course management.

We wrap up the practice round with JP signing autographs and giving away his practice balls to the kids, and then off to the range for some more work on some irons and fairway woods. A bit of time with the folks from Ping to talk with them about his driver... and schedule some time on a launch monitor. Checking our tee times, we get a late start on Thursday and an early one on Friday. Weather up here can be interesting with the thunderstorms... so it means a staff bag full of rain gear and umbrellas! Good times. :)

Wednesday is a lighter day, as there is another Pro Am that Justin is not involved in, and we aren't allowed on the course. Instead, it is time on the range, and putting and chipping to get a feel for this thick rough.

Previous Posts:
July 11, 2006
June 23, 2006

Note: Mark's daily posts will be posted in the Comments section.


Bill-DC said...

More from Mark Farnham, Justin's caddy, on his preparations leading up to today's first round. Justin tees off at 1:21 today.

I'm doubling this week as agent/PR manager so I work the phones etc. to see if we can get a little interest in some coverage in the media. I ask for some favors and people are almost always nice to me... so that seems to go well, and we head over to the course before lunchtime. The media angle is important. He needs to focus on the game, but needs to get some help on looking after things like this... because the exposure is what leads to club deals and the money to keep following the dream... and the clothes and bags/hats are simply billboards to sell advertising. Everything at this level is done for a purpose. JP needs to be thinking about hitting golf shots. Remember, I am a businessman first and foremost, I am thinking about his angles.

JP grabs a bite and I take my spot over by the range. It isn't too long, and the Local Fox TV station with a film crew is there and wants to do an interview. He hits some balls. We talk with some agents, manufacturers, and get a club made for him that actually might make it into his bag for the week. This is another big benefit to being on the Tour. Having a club fitter and manufacturer right on the range... with prototype clubs. He had it spec'd out and made and in his hands in 20 minutes. Fairway/rescue club from Adams that he hit at a flag 220yds away and nearly hit the flag on his first try and was going after with a really amazing dispersion. It was really cool.

Next up... An XM Satellite interview (station 146) for What’s in the Bag segment. Should air either today or tomorrow during coverage. After that, he worked on some more irons and wedges and chipping from the very high rough. Brown Deer has really few defenses, so the rough has been let to grow high. It's a challenge, so he spent the bulk of time on this. We finished off with some putting.

We wrap up the night by driving back to the hotel and hanging out at my room and talking a little bit about Thursday, and playing a little video poker to him to relax (I have warned you guys about his poker skills... he's good).

The thing I keep putting into his head, and the scene I want to plant is the one from Hoosiers (I even remind him of the film). The team arrives from Hickory to play in the championships, and the coach has them measure the height of the basket, the length of the foul shot etc... He just needs to keep everything into perspective. This is just golf. It's just a golf course, and one with pretty wide fairways, that is actually shorter than the one we played on Monday. The wind is going to be a lot less even than then. We'll have about the same gallery as we did then. The competition for the week is of course going to be tough, but just a look at these guys is a list of guys he's played against at every level. He knows all of this stuff. He just needs to be reminded of it. Guys like Bubba Watson and Tag Ridings etc. he has played with on Mini-Tours... Even guys like Tiger Woods (who of course isn't at this event, he's teed it up against before). He just needs to play his game. It's good enough. He belongs.

This reminds me of one other thing. The PGA Tour range. If you ever get the chance to visit an event and the spectator area is close to the range, go late in the day on Wednesday... it is EMPTY of fans, and usually a handful of guys are there. The reason I tell you this is to listen. Just listen to the sound of the shots over and over. There is a pureness and tone to them that is like music, and you don't hear it on TV the same way. It is something I heard when Justin and I played together this year for the first time in a while. Every shot sounded this way. At first I thought it was the clubs... but having stood on the range now for a few days, now I know what that is... It is the sound of the PGA Tour.

Bill-DC said...

Thursday's notes from Mark. Rain postponed the first round with 105 golfers yet to tee off. Long day today.

The best laid plans of Mice and Men...Well, get me a job as a weather man. They originally said only a 20% chance of rain, but after a few false starts... play was finally called at about 5pm. Justin only got to get into his warm ups when the horn sounded, and he was really hitting the ball well.

An afternoon of waiting and now we are coming back for 36 holes in tomorrow's heat and humidity. Happy joy for me. I'm up for it! Just hope my body is. I haven't walked 36 since I was a kid... and I have never carried a staff bag for that amount, and certainly not in this kind of heat. No complaints... Just a concern that I know that I am a big fella and its a long way. No worries... a diet of steady birdies and I'll walk on air ;).

Nice one by Pavin today huh? Saw him after the round, and even he looked a little shocked by it. 3 fairways hit and a 61 is fantastic. I'm telling you that rough is thick. He must have drawn some great lies.

The range and day was very different today. First off, there were FANS EVERYWHERE. The range is also somewhat smallish, so the spots are a bit scrunched in too... the joking and good humor are now replaced by a look of determination on many of the guys faces, and on some... a look of hope. Many of the guys in the field this week are hoping just for a good finish to get some much needed money to get closer up to safety and the 125 mark. It's late July, and although it is too early to be worried about your card, it is events like Milwaukee, The Deere, Reno, Valero, etc... that make or break a lot of the guys... and this is really their MAJOR week. You can see it all laid out before them.

When the horn blows, the players all go up to the clubhouse, and the caddies all scatter down to the caddy tent to keep the clubs dry and find shelter. Now we just wait out the storm. The sad thing is for the fans who came late in the day and missed out on Pavin, and the rest of the golf for the day.

Bill-DC said...

From Mark Farnham. Since play was postponed Thursday, 105 golfers had to play 36 holes on Friday. Here is how Justin fared:

We leave for the course at 5:45am, as the restart for the players on the course is at 7am sharp when the horn blows... play resumes. It's a bit crazy at the range this morning, as you would expect... and when the mad dash is over, we have about 30 minutes to finish preparing for the day. We are teeing off on number 10 to start the day, and it is still very wet on the course. A few quick pars on the first couple of holes, and Justin seems to be settling in okay. Before you could blink though, he'd left a few putts right on the lip and he was 2 over. A good birdie on the next par 3, and he settled back in. Moving along at +1. Might have also made another birdie on the following hole, but the putter just didn't have much magic in it today. The first nine finished in +1 and it wasn't the start he was hoping for. The heat was also really starting to come up and be a factor for the day... and by now, we were soaking wet. I don't think it had any effect on play... just darned uncomfortable at this point.

Our front nine was more adventure filled. A great approach from Justin on 1, led to bird... but the next 4 holes brought 3 bogies and he was getting down. Most were ones that could have been saved with a putt, but again they just came up short. It wasn't so much that you'd blame the putter... it's just that he was putting a lot of pressure on it, and usually it is a strong point in his game.

The nine ended with some more disappointments, including a lip out for birdie... and we ended the round at +2. Shame he didn't just blow the doors off the place. He was actually hitting the ball okay... just a few loose shots, and the putter not holding its own. We knew at that moment... much like you guys did here on the board that he needed to shoot a 66 to make the cut.

Tired... we had 40 minutes to refuel for round number 2.

Round 2:
Funny... my soaking wet feet (the dew/damp) were really my only physical concern. The heat really wasn't getting to me all that much. I was joking with Justin that I'd lost 10Lbs in the first 18, so I felt so much lighter... this round would be a snap. Before we even tee off, some BIG BREAK fans approach and cheer him on. It's nice and good encouragement when you need a little spring in your step.

We start this round off in the traditional manner by going off of number 1, and Justin shoots one up the right side. He makes a par with a good second putt... and a string of nice pars starts off. This ends when a bad break stops some momentum. On the par 5, 6th hole he hits a pretty good drive that leaks just a little right and kicks just into the first cut of rough. As we are walking up, we get the bad news. The ball is stymied right next to the only tree around. A foot either way and he is okay... instead, he has to play out almost sideways, and although he still manages to have a makeable putt for par, he walks off with bogey. It hurts to go back to +3 on the walking scorer. On a hole we were hoping to go to +1 and get back in the race, suddenly he is faced with a bigger hill to climb.

Momentum is a big thing to a professional golfer. Especially for a young pro learning to deal with his emotions. He made a string of pars, some good, some where he would feel he should have made birdie, and finally he got one back at the 14th hole... a hole he "owned" this week with great birdie on another nice shot on the par 3. Now, it is going to take a long shot, but he has to feel he has a shot.

He hits a good drive, but on the shorter side for him, and his 3 wood is 295 yards from the flag on the par 5 15th, and his approach, which is a good one, comes to rest on the fairway neck of the green. It should be a straight forward chip and putt for birdie. The chip fails to bite, and rolls through the green, and when a utility club putt comes up short, he misses the putt and makes bogey. A birdie turned into bogey and the cut is now no longer in sight. Now he needs to just play out his best and hope for miracles to happen.

No miracle today... just pars at 16 and 17, and then a great professional birdie at 18. Great driver, 3 wood, wedge to 3 feet, and putt. Even par for the round.

So the event ends for Justin at 72-70 (+2) 142

It didn't quite end like we had hoped it would, but I wouldn't exactly call it a failure either. It's a learning experience on a longer road to earning full time status on the tour for Justin. He is improving with every step of the way. This was a much better outing for him than the Booz Allen, and although the missed cut was the same, it was closer than the numbers bear out. Just turn the 2 par 5s from bogies into birdies and he makes the cut. It was actually a fine line this time out. Ball striking was pretty decent, and his driving was good... although the distance stats will be off because he used 3wood a few times on holes when the other guys used drivers and they were measuring.

The 36 holes was just part of golf, but it would have been great to have had a break in between and had a night to sleep on things and get his putting sorted out. Justin is usually a very good putter... today I saw him leave more putts short than in our previous 10 rounds together. It was a shock to the both of us. Right on line, center cut... right on the lip. It happens. That's golf.

What's next for Justin? He's going to take a week off to visit some family and go to a wedding, then spend some time down on the Grey Goose Gateway Tour, and keep getting himself ready for Q school this fall. I think the thing that would benefit him most right now would be the ability to be able to play out here again next week. The fascination does start to rub off, and it just becomes golf. He might get a chance one more time to play out on Tour prior to Q-School, and I really hope he does, because I think it will help him a ton when he gets there.

As for me? I'm back to the grind. I've enjoyed physically supporting my friends by carrying the sticks for them, but I have to return to the office now. Most of you have come to know me somewhat by reading my blogs on here and know that I'll keep you updated on what's going on.

Finally, thank you to all of you who came out and supported us at the course, and called, sent notes, wrote responses, bugged the Golf Channel to get Justin some publicity etc... it all helps and it is all very much appreciated.