My National Day: June 26, 2016
One of my most memorable moments in golf did not occur in a tournament or even a round of golf but rather a casual conversation on the putting green at the Naval Academy Golf Course in July 2000. I was a plebe at the Naval Academy in the middle of Plebe Summer boot camp and the conversation was with a teammate on the Navy golf team. Standing on the putting green, I commented to my teammate that I was going to play golf on the PGA TOUR. He chuckled and said, “Good luck with that.”
I graduated from the Naval Academy on May 28, 2004, and was commissioned into the United States Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. I spent five years active duty where my tours took me to Mayport, Florida, on USS GETTYSBURG (CG-64) and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on USS CHUNG-HOON (DDG-93). I also taught economics at the Naval Academy during my active duty time.
After my four years of collegiate golf at The Academy, I knew that professional golf was something that I wanted to try and something in which that I was capable of succeeding.
After my five years of active duty, I resigned my commission on June 30, 2009, and began to pursue professional golf full time. For the first time in my life, as a 27-year-old father of one (soon to be two), I focused solely on golf. I always had something else going on — be it the course load at the Naval Academy or my job onboard ship as a division officer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being an officer in the Navy and wouldn’t trade my experience for the world, but as you can imagine, my focus was not on golf when I was aboard ship.
It took me just over two years to earn my PGA TOUR card after separating from the Navy. I will admit this was faster than even I expected, and in 2012, I began my PGA TOUR career. My rookie year was a hard, hard transition, and I finished 151st on the money list, falling short of the 150th spot (which retains status on TOUR) by $165. After 2013, on the Web.com Tour, I returned to the PGA TOUR in 2014 and had a very successful year on the links.
Then 2015 happened.
I struggled on the course in the early part of the year, and things unraveled off the course in the second part of the year. After my father’s suicide, golf became very difficult. Many people escape from troubles on the golf course, but for me, this is where my troubles were accentuated. My dad and I spent a tremendous amount of time together on the golf course. So when I was out there, I found myself thinking about him a lot and not able to focus on my game in the way needed to compete at the highest level.
I came into the 2016 Quicken Loans National, the very event which I announced to the public that my father had gone missing just one year earlier, with limited status on TOUR and little success thus far during the season. In fact, I needed a sponsor’s exemption to gain entry into the tournament. Yet, I am very comfortable at Congressional, and I was playing well heading into the event. What transpired over the course of the next four days in Bethesda, Maryland, was nothing short of a storybook fairy-tale.
I first played the Quicken Loans National in 2011, and as a U.S. Navy veteran, I immediately recognized that the way that the tournament honors our military was different. There is not another event on TOUR which honors our military in the extraordinary fashion as the National. The Quicken Loans National quickly became my favorite stop on TOUR.
Back to June 26, 2016: I was standing over a 35-yard pitch from the front left of the 15th green, and I had no idea that my career was about to change forever. I knew I hit a good shot when it came off face of my 60-degree wedge, but I never once thought it was going to go in. Then the ball disappeared into the bottom of the cup! The roar around the green was unlike anything I have ever heard on a golf course. In a matter of seconds, I went from trying to cling to a one-shot lead to having a two-shot lead with three holes to play. Forty minutes later, I was picking my ball out of the cup on the 18th green having just won my first PGA TOUR event. Winning the Quicken Loans National is a dream come true, but to have it be my first career victory and have it be so close to my home in Annapolis, Maryland, makes it nearly unbelievable.
This Veteran’s Day, I want to say THANK YOU to all of our servicemen and women (and their families) who are serving or have served our great nation. Every week on TOUR, I get cheers from military members in the gallery. I am extremely honored, privileged and proud to represent the Naval Academy, the Navy and all of our Armed Forces on the PGA TOUR.
All of my teammates from the Navy golf team are behind me — even the one who chuckled back in July 2000 — and join me in shouting, “BEAT ARMY!”