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My Golf Journey

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Well, I've hit 1,000 posts here. Woohoo! Took me long enough (almost 6yrs).  So I thought I'd do the whole journey of golf thing like other posters have done, although I'll abbreviate it as much as I can so this doesn't get too long.  Just fyi, I'm a terrible story teller. Ufta, it is a little long, but enjoy! :-D

Child, born in 1990, to 15yrs old 
I started before I knew what I was doing.  My parents got me the blue plastic, double-sided iron and putter with wiffle balls that I could smack around the back yard.  I apparently loved doing it.  My dad and grandpa wouldn't teach me too much except on how to grip and stand.  My swing was interesting.  Apparently, I would bring the club up to the top, pause so I can adjust my feet, then swing back down and hit the ball.  My grandpa was always amused that I could hit the ball doing that.  He tried to get me to stop up through when I joined my first team in 7th grade.

I'm not sure when I got my first set of clubs, but I do know that it was the typical starting set with a driver, 5,7,9 irons, PW, and putter.  There was a 9 hole, par 3 course near my home in suburbs of Chicago, that I played most of the time.  My next set of clubs was given when I joined that team in 7th grade. The clubs were actually an older ladies set of steel drivers and irons, but I hit them well enough (set was 1,3,5,& 7 woods, 4,5,6,7,8,9 irons, pw and putter).  At this point, I was brought to my first 18 hole track, where I would eventually work for 4 years. Course is called Chick Evans, a Billy Casper managed course.  But for the team, they only wanted us to play the smaller 9 hole courses.  The point of the team was to prepare us for high school golf. So we played in competitions with coaches going with each group to go over rules and stuff.  My only memory of this team was when I hit a shot on a par 3 to a couple inches. I was so happy that I ran up and tapped it in.... but with the flag stick still in.  So I got a 2 stroke penalty.  Lesson learned.  During this time, my favorite club was my wedge.  I don't know why, but I was soooo good with that club around the greens.  I could chip, pitch, flop, sand trap, anything with that club and put it close every time.  It seemed like I was chipping in at least once a round.  Then came the SW.  My dad decided to give me a SW for some reason and all that short game confidence went away.  Also up to this point, I had never received a lesson.  I was stubborn and didn't want anybody changing anything.  With the team, was a PGA instructor who we all took a few lessons from and the only thing I took from this guy was changing my grip from 10-finger to an overlap. I ignored everything else he said.

During these years, my whole family liked to golf.  It was an interesting transition because my sister really liked to play (she's 3yrs older than me), but only if she knew she'd beat me.  Eventually, we got competitive and then to me beating her almost every time.  She hated that and at this point refused to play golf if I was playing too.  So that ended her playing for a long time until she could accept I would always be a better golfer.    My mom had the weirdest start to her swing.  She doesn't know how it started, but in the beginning of her take away, she would fully cock her wrists then swing her arms back.  My dad tried to fix it, but it didn't work.  Took me until I was 22 and just starting to think about turning club pro for me to change it up a little bit.  My dad though has always been a good golfer and has always supported my game.  He grew up on Long Island and played Bethpage Black before it became popular. That was his home course. To this day, he could recite for you the entire course, as it was back then.  That is really cool, but we haven't gone back to play it since the changes.  We will eventually.

One of my friends growing up had parents who worked at a golf course, so he had access to new equipment.  My friend and I would hit balls at his house into their practice net pretty often.  His dad and him had the new Cobra 440SZ (I think it was), but they both didn't like it and decided to give it to me.  I went from a small steel head 1W to this big honking driver.  I crushed that thing.  The next year would be high school and I was already known a little bit to be a good golfer, possibly making the varsity team.

High school
The home course for my high school was a weird track that ran parallel to a Chicago branch river through the city of Evanston, called Peter Jans. It's called something else now.  Tight fairways and holes, was a par 60ish.  So most of the holes were par 3's ranging from 70yds to 210yds.  The par 4's were between 250 and 300yds.  When I say tight holes, I really mean tight. As in you have a 5yd window or less to hit your tee ball on some of the tees.  It was severely tree lined so there weren't any issues with hitting a house.  In any case, I played it a few times before tryouts.  But after day 1, they moved me and another kid to the varsity tryout.  They decided to keep us on JV anyway.  That year I went from shooting around 100 on a normal 18 hole course to high 80's.  I got better slowly after that, because I got popular from my tee shots.  I was the big hitter.  I went through a few drivers from cobra and eventually ended having their first version of the Xspeed 460cc driver.  But I was already hitting up to 300yds when I was 15.  Don'y get me wrong, my average drive was more like 265-270, but on the few times I successfully smacked it, it went a long way.  I was hitting further than any of the seniors and i became obsessed with trying to hit further.  Who cared about consistency when I could smack it 300yds.  Towards the end of my freshman year, I joined the varsity to play in regional qualifying, but ended up shooting 100 or so.

Sophomore year, I played mostly varsity but a few matches as JV.  I don't remember too much about this year.  Junior year I was fully on varsity and starting to shoot lower 80's, high 70's. But, by this point, my peers had caught up and that other kid from freshman year who tried out with varsity with me, got better than me by a few strokes.  I still was trying to hit my ball 300+yds.  I still couldn't focus on trying to swing consistently.   Somewhere between sophomore and junior year, I upgraded my irons to cobra and got a titleist 3 wood and a cobra hybrid.

Junior year was also when I got my nickname. Since 3rd grade, I've been singing in choirs, and in high school, I was standing next to another Phil.  We called him P-dizzle and me P-killa.  So, what did I do?  I put that nickname on my golf ball, pkilla.  I was playing in a tournament where a hole had in course OB (I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE in course OB, I hate it so much, I find that OB every single time), so of course I sliced one right that went towards that OB line.  So I hit a provisional ball out to the left and had my coach go look for the provisional.  I ended up being a foot or so in bounds (seriously, i was).  My coach and our #1 player, who had WD earlier in the day from bad play, came over with a big grin on their faces and I knew that they had seen what I put on my ball.  So, I was now known as pkilla from then on.

Senior year was a good year.  I had dropped to #3 or 4 on the team and finally realized that I needed to get consistent.  I was still the big hitter but I focused more on getting my scores down and coming up with proper course management.  One particular tournament was at a course called White Deer Run.  The first green had the pin stuck right on top of a mound that if you missed the putt, it came right back to your feet.  I was going #6 this day and right before I teed off, one of those random thunderstorms came rolling through so we got everybody in for a couple hour delay.  The coaches decided, due to light, to just make it a 9 hole tourney.  I teed off on that first hole and it was wet enough that my birdie putt stopped right next to the hole on the mound, and I tapped in for par.  I continued to play right around par for 7 holes, I had one bogey, and my coach came driving up to ask how I was playing.  I didn't want to say 1 over because I knew it would jinx me.  So I said I was doing ok.  I think they took that to mean 3 or 4 over.  As I was coming down the 9th hole, they were out watching and I parred the final par 5 to finish with a 37.  Their faces were priceless when I told them.  It gave us our first win in our schools history for a multiple team tournament.

That year continued to get better and I was shooting right around par most of our 9 hole matches and around 75 in most 18 hole tournaments.  So, during this time is also when you are looking at college.  I knew, of course, that I wasn't good enough for Div 1 golf, but I thought if I went to a mid range D 2 school that I could play.  I eventually went to WWU, from looking up golf, marine bio, and choir on a college search engine.  I had myself, my coach, and all the above to try and get a hold of the college team coach.  Never had a single answer until the day before walk on tryouts my freshman yr in college, although at this point the whole team was filled anyway so it was just there to appease the fans I guess.  I had hard feelings then, but I got over it and played on my own.  Anyway, back to senior yr high school, I ended up shooting a 74 at our smaller regional tournament and a 75 at the bigger regional tournament to move to sectionals.  I had placed 5th, while our #1 guy shot 73 to finish 3rd.  It was the first time in a long time that our school qualified for sectionals.  But we were in for a hell of a day.  Tight country club type course, but with howling winds.  I played a high ball flight, so I was S.O.L.  Both myself and our #1 guy shot 87's and the rest of our team shot worse.  We didn't make it to state.  One highlight that day came on #10 a short par 4 that if you carry 260yds over water, you can hit the green.  My coach always says play conservatively, so I take out a 7iron or whatever. And he walks up and says, Phil, I want you to go for it.  I was shocked, never in my life would I imagine him saying that.  The wind was cross wind but helping a bit.  Driver would go over the green, so I pulled 3W.  With all the coaches and parents watching, I hit a pure push draw that landed on the green and rolled to 20ft away.  Ended with birdie and it was sweet.  But that was the only good shot that day.  Oh well, time to go to college.

One note from high school.  But first, a bit of back ground on Chick Evans GC, it's a short course, par 71.  But it has one of the hardest holes in the state, hole 3.  Par 5, 500yds, you have to carry 180yds to clear water, BUT there's water left of FW and water right of FW, AND the fairway has that bow to it that any drive that hits the left or right side of the FW will bounce in the water 100% of the time.  It just has to be a perfect drive.  When the course is busy, I've seen as much as 4 groups on the tee, because they all hit 2nd drives instead of moving on to drop over the water.  The hole continues with water down the whole right side and then it cuts through the FW in front of the green.  This was my least favorite hole and then became my favorite hole.  One summer (I think I was 16 or 17yrs old), I was playing with a 2-some, without my dad unfortunately, and I smoked a drive 330yds past the left water and to the wide part of the FW, but I found the ball to be lying low in a drain pipe grass area.  I ended up skulling my 7-iron and it hit the front of the green, but rolled all the way to the back of the green where the pin was and dropped in for a double eagle!! I must've jumped 20ft in the air. haha! I couldn't believe it.  Ended up around a 80 that day.

College to today
Well I already stated how tryouts was a bust.  I will add that they required you to shoot even par on a newly aerated course (it was seriously the day before they had finished aerating).  So it was impossible to play well.  Anyway, I played on my own during the year and during the summers, I would go back to Chicago and work at Chick Evans as outside staff.  So I was the guy that cleaned carts, gassed them, I was the marshal a bit, and I was the starter.  The years during college I slowly got better and got to a 1 handicap or so.  I continued hitting 300yd drives and at Chick Evans, there were only 2 par 4's left that I hadn't driven the green.  Both of those holes were 370, and all the others were 340 or less, so I drove those.  My lowest score was a 68 I think, so nothing special but it was a 60's score.  When I marshaled the course, I would stop by and watch groups and offer tidbits of help if they'd like and I got reasonably good results and compliments from that.  I didn't ever push it too far.  But this was the beginning for me to look into being a golf professional one day. Also at Chick Evans, when I had just turned 21, I was on the #10 tee box playing with my dad.  170yds, into the breeze and uphill, but you can still see the green.  I hit my 7iron and it one hopped into the hole for my first hole in one! Haha, my dad was more excited than me I think.  Course I had to buy a few rounds after that round.  That was the same 7-iron from my double eagle.  I still have it stored away, but my plan will be to put it in a glass case.  That's a special 7iron.

My junior year, I started dating my wife, Kelly, and senior year was that time that I'm thinking about us but also graduate school.  Univ of Washington had the program I wanted but is a super hard program to get into.  Deals with diatoms inside hydrothermal vents and how it feeds the entire ecosystem around the vents as well as why diatoms show up at these vents.  Cool, but because I golfed during summers instead of internships in the field as well as my GPA or whatever, I didn't get into UW.  After graduating, I moved in with a buddy of mine for a year while he still attended WWU, and I started to work at Shuksan GC.  I worked this time as pro shop staff.  At this point, I'm figuring out what direction to take my life.  This job was seasonal, so I had to find something for the winter.  I ended up quitting and going to the casino to work as a customer service.  I would eventually go to part time supervisor and part time slot attendant.  But I worked night shift for the 2 years I was there.  So start somewhere between 4:30pm and 8:30pm and work til as late as 6:30am (yes late, not early, it's still nighttime for me at 6:30am the next day, haha).  But this gave me the opportunity to golf during the day.

At this point, I had moved in with Kelly into a condo.  She finished her MBA and then went to work for the state auditor's office and I worked nights and played golf during the day.  During those 2 years, something clicked for me in my game and I went down to a +3 handicap at my home courses.  But I still shot around 0 to +1 at newer courses.  So, I decided to try a US Open qualifier.  I used to love playing tournaments in high school.  I loved the pressure, but that went away as I hadn't played in tournaments for 5yrs at that point.  The qualifier was at one of my now favorite courses called Tumble Creek.  I had a buddy of mine that I play golf with caddy for me.  I played terribly and embarrassed myself by shooting 90.  I made a thread on that experience and I was embarrassed to post that 90 for a year it seemed like.  It shocked me and took me a while to get back to the course.  But when I did play, I was back to shooting 69 or 70 at my home course and so I started to take lessons from a local pro who had worked with and caddied for Ben Crane in the past and is a good friend of his.  He changed my weight shift and swing and I like the initial results.  But those were the first real lessons I've ever taken before. My swing has always been just that, my swing.  When lessons started, it wasn't mine anymore and I didn't know how to trust it.

I stopped with lessons after 6 or 7 of them so I could find trust again.  (It's honestly something I still haven't been able to quite do yet, but it's very close now).  But in those lessons, my teacher was surprised at how fast I could pick up what he wanted me to do.  I could do any swing he wanted, but the problem was that I couldn't duplicate it on my own.  In any case, I continued to play obviously and started on the track to find an Assistant Golf Professional position somewhere close by.  During that time, I got married, bought a house, and passed my PAT test, so that it would look good for my resume to say that I'm ready for the PGA program.  When Kelly and I were moving into our house, I found an open Assistant position at one of the nearby courses.  Funny, because the post was literally up the night before, and the morning after I walked my resume in and talked to the boss.  I was offered the job a week later.  I joined the PGA program in a few months and I'm still working on it, but more slowly than I first intended.

Since joining the apprenticeship, I've been playing in a lot more tournaments and while my handicap is 0ish (I don't keep a real cap), my tournament cap from those events is a 3.4 (this is a cap kept & updated by my chapter of the PGA).  I'm to the point again where I don't feel nerves on the first tee and I can just play my own game.   But as I said earlier, I don't 100% trust my own game.  I love my irons and wedges, it's my driver and 3-wood that I don't quite trust yet.  I can keep them in the FW most of the time, it's more of ball flight.  Sometimes it's a small cut, sometimes its a small draw.  I could play one or the other if I knew which one would show up.  Yes I can control one or the other to some degree when the shot calls for a draw because of a dogleg.  It's on the straight holes that I have the problem, go figure. haha! 

So these days I'm just going as I go.  My wife and i are thinking baby time within a year.  So playing golf may get put on hold, but I love what i do and I plan to keep doing it for as long as I can.  I'll keep at the US Open qualifiers for fun to see if I can make it one day, but I'm not actively looking to play on a mini tour or anything.  I definitely need to have a plus figure tournament handicap first, which is my goal this next year.

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It's always interesting to hear or read how others became better players. It's helpful, in a way, to know that most have struggled to get where they are.

Thanks for sharing.

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