Sunday, June 29, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

It has been a week since my last post. During this time, I made my way across the globe and back to where the heart is. There is a lot of love back home. I've spent these past days trying to get acclimated to the time change and catch up on rest missed out during eight consecutive months of travel and competition. I think in response to that, I have been slow to adapt. I've only realized how exhilarating, yet exhausting this past year has been in the last few days.

I am home until mid-August before I return east for the second half of the Asian golf season. With 4 events between $500k-$1 million and appearances being made by KJ Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk, infinite success is offered. A win or two would be the ultimate weapon to yeild at PGA Tour Q-School at the end of the fall.

I will play a few tournaments while I am home: NH Open, Bangor Open, the new Golfer's Warehouse Tour, (potentially) Nationwide Tour Qualifier. Competition is always welcomed, but is not my main purpose for being home. This month, I intend to visit my golf coach and make improvements in my swing. I want to learn as much about my swing as I can cram into this spacious brain of mine. The more knowledge I have, the easier it should be to manage my swing as I move through the second half of the season.

Goal Two consists of rebuilding my body. I lost strength and weight in Asia and intend to challenge myself to reach a peak fitness level.

Goal Three, but not of least importance, is creating the financial security to bring in the new year as a member of the PGA Tour. Pro golf is an expensive endeavour and while I have been making enough to pay my expenses on the road and am on the verge of reeling in two victories that yield financial stability, it is crucial to have the financing that allows me to pursue all these career goals until those victories come. That will be another priority.

It is spectacular to be home. The difference between sleeping on Taiwan's hard, cold bamboo and my home matress is the differential between a day's life and death; between productivity and a zombie-like state of sleep walking. Until you leave, you never know Dorthy was right: "There's no place like home."

Monday, June 23, 2008

World Golf and 'Family' Dinners

I was hoping to update the blog after the final round yesterday, but chaos and a lack of internet service won out over that idea. My apologies if this post lacks cohesion as I just arrived in San Fran and the light and time change is leading me into zombie mode.

I finished the Acebank Montvert Open tournament with 74 for a 32nd finish and made about $2k. As with the previous tournament, the final round outcome was not as I had envisioned, but after I opened the tournament with +5, 77 and hit my tee shot on the second hole of my second round out of bounds, battling back to make the weekend was an accomplishment.

After my finish, a Korean player told me how impressed many of the Korean players were with my performance in the first half of my rookie year. He said during the first hald of the season, where international players are trying to acclaimate themselves to food and culture change, extreamly unique and stressful golf course styles, while trying to manage transportation and accomodations in a land of limited english, very few are able to make cuts. Even most Asian Tour players who also have exempt status on Korean Tour, struggle to adjust to all the factors a player has to manage outside the golf course. He said my ability to make 5 cuts to start the year was impressive. It only gets easier from this point forward.

This week my gallery consisted of members of 'the family;' 'the dragon brothers.' I ate dinner with members of the Korean mob every night, one 'brother' was my transportation and caddy for the week, and another invited me to play an extra practice round on the tournament course. As the week rolled on, I had a few more spectators every day with dragon tatoos covering their upper torso. This nuance with the gunfire and explosions coming from the North Korean training camps a few miles away made for a unique week of golf.

"You in Korea, my family...caddy, hotel, car...give you," Mr. Lee continuously said to me. "No money, no problem, Brother," he continued.

On my way back to the airport I was concerned I was going to have to bump someone off to pay my tab. I breathed a sigh of relief when I unpacked the back of the 'company car' and said my goodbyes.

Before I left this morning, I met a hotel manager who had seen me play on t.v. and told me anytime I was in Korea, they would see to it I was taken care of. One fantasic component to playing here is the t.v. coverage. I get to play in primetime every week. It is great simulation training for my PGA Tour debut. It will be a few months before it's back to the SBS Korean Golf Channel, ordering 'Bugoggi' from the local soup holes and being a guest of 'the family.' I'll be home for two glorious months of preparation towards taking on the golfing world.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Good Day

Today was the best day I have enjoyed on the Korean Tour. After my morning cut saving, 7-foot putt followed by an elated, tension releaving fist pump, I shot -3, 69 in the afternoon to get my total back to even par. I have moved up from 116th place to 25th in two rounds. It has been a grueling week. Day 1 was a 7:45 round of golf, the longest I've ever played. Day 2 carried over into Day 3 due to darkness, and my 3 am wakeup this morning made this afternoon feel like evening.

I kept my mobster caddie on his toes all day. I think he was more nervous than I. Everytime I'd hit a good shot he would yell "Good Shotie!" He had more enthousiasm than the entire 10 person gallery that followed our group.

It has been an exciting day. I am completely wiped out tonight. I left all emotions and energy on the course today. As I moved through the day, they lept from me with every swing I made and every putt I rolled in. I leave Monday to come home for the summer months. Monsoon season shuts asian golf down. A brilliant round tomorrow will be a fitting end to eight months of world travel, culture shock and hard work.

My scores this event reflect the journey I've been on: It began with high aspirations, took a few detours and left me feeling overwhelmed and came around to reveal success and fullfilment.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I Walk the Line Cont'd.

There is nothing quite as unsettling as sleeping on the cut line. After being taken off the course yesterday due to darkness on the 17th tee (a 230 yard par three surrounded by water), I went to bed at +3 (the cut line). I was the last player on the course. The other players that did not finish, withdrew because they did not have a chance to make the cut this morning. Par-Par would get me a minimum check of $1300 on my morning holes. Any score over par and I go home empty handed. I woke up at 3am and was restless until I went to the course at 5:50 to finish.

I hit a pure 4 iron to the back pin and left myself a 25 footer on 17...two putt. One par down. 18 is a 460 par 4 with o.b. left and right and water surrounding the green. Needless to say, these were not the two holes you wanted to have to finish with pars on at 6 in the morning to make a cut. But that's the job sometimes.

After two nervous swings and a misread chip, I had 7 feet straight downhill for make the cut. My hands shook a bit as I stood over the putt. There could have been a million things that went through my head, I tried to focus on only one: my target. I struck the putt and watched it fade towards the right edge. It hit the edge, spun around the side and fell in the back of the cup!! I threw a Tiger-esque fist pump in front of the tour officials who cheered. I had made the cut. The putt was worth over a thousand dollars and I had come through in the cluth. It may have only been to make the cut, but it was an epochal personal victory.

I Walk the Line

When the darkness set in tonight, I was -2 with 2 holes left. My total score is +3 (the cut number). I will tee it up at 6:30 am on the 230 yard par three and need an even par or better finish to continue playing the weekend. I'm begining to play well again. Today I hit some flag busters and I am on the verge of going low. I will write more tomorrow after I finish off my second round. Good night!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Long Round

I hit solid approaches into my first three greens today, narrowly missed my birdie putts, then the fog set in. It left five groups stuck on the fourth tee for an hour and a half. By the time we teed off, two hours had elapsed. I stepped up over my tee shot and pulled one o.b....double bogey. As we arrived at the fifth tee, five groups again waited on the short par 5. It took an hour for the groups to clear. I layed down for a 40 minute nap. When I stood over that tee shot, it had taken us 4 hours to play 4 holes.

I eventually found my smooth tempo, but my putting left me with a single one putt all day and 36 putts for the round. A weekend golfer cannot beat his buddies with similar putting woes, let alone a pro golfer on an international tour. As frusterating as it is to miss the hole time and time again, I hung tough. I stood on the final tee and said, "I am going to make birdie."

I lasered a wedge into 5 feet and snuck the putt in the right corner of the hole for 77. The only thing good about 77: it is better than 78. The round finished after 8 hours on the course, twice the amount of time it takes to play a normal round.

There were an abundance of opportunities I gave myself today. Although I wasn't able to capitalize and had some adversity on the greens, I am pleased with a few facets of my game. I struck many pure iron shots and mentally, continously reinforced that I would find a way to score my ball.

It is a fickle sport and while 10 or more strokes between one round and another can seem like a huge differential, I know the game I brought to this tournament can post a low score. It will have to tomorrow as I will start the day well outside the cut line. That is one of the many reasons golf is so addictive though; there is always the possibility that tomorrow will be better than today.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dragon Brothers and Afganistan Taekwondo

It's a new week on the Korean Tour...a fresh slate. It doesnt matter whether you finished 35th, 1st or missed the cut at the last tournament, you have the potential to win this event. As the last tournament finished, I found myself without a way to get from the small Korean town, back to Seoul. I asked around, and eventually met up with Mr. Lee, a "boxing promoter" and golf aficionado. He offered to drive me to the nearest town to catch a bus back to the city (It took half an hour to work this out with my inability to speak any Korean and his to speak limited english). As we exchanged words and arrived at the bus stop, he generously offered to drive me back to Seoul Airport (2 hours away). En route, we stopped to meet his "brother" for dinner. As we sat over the Korean barbeque, I inquired about their family tie and a piece of tatoo I noticed underneath the short sleeve of Mr. Lee's shirt. Both men showed me the begining of a dragon tatoo that extended around their entire upper torso and took a month to complete. Mr. Lee said all his "family" had the dragon tatoo.

I asked further. "Mom and Dad have tatoo?"

He pointed to the sky and responded, "Mom and Dad."

"Oh, not alive?" I continued.

"Um," he nodded. "No sister, no brother. Solo." He pointed to his "brother." "He my brother. Many, Many brother in Korea. Many, Many brother in Japan."

I'm starting to get the picture.

"In Japan, call Yakuza," he said.

"Korean mob?" I asked.

"Mafia. Italy! You know? Al Pacino? You know?" He asked.

"Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando. Yeah, I know. You Godfather?" I joked.

I know he didnt understand the reference, but he shook his head and said, "Korean Mafia. Many, Many Dragon brother. Many, Many family. Many, Many nightclub."

I'm thinking, "no way this guy could hang with Brando."

"Gun? You shoot people?" I'm joking at the time.

"No gun. Big, eh, sword. Cut. Big, eh..." His friend came to the rescue, "Knife."

A bit primative. Now I know why all the new gang movies I see on tv here involve Crocodile Dundee's Knife battles.

So here I am in the midst of the Korean mob. We ate a great beef dinner and he dropped me off at the airport unscathed.

I am traveling with an Asian Tour player from Taiwan, Lien Lu Sen. Today, we were trying to figure out how to make the three and a half hour journey from Seoul to a small town on the North Korean border. We phoned Mr. Lee for some advice.

"You want go to Korea Tour Tournament?" He asked.

"Yes, very far. How go?" I asked as basically as possible.

"No problem. I come airport. Together, go." He said.

We reluctantly accept and 30 minutes later, Mr. Lee shows up in his black Hyundai and takes us three hours up to the North Korean border. In a country where getting a tee time is impossible and expensive, he has arranged a tee time for us tomorrow for free. I'm sure my mom is reading this now and shaking her head. I am about to get an email that says "Be Careful."

As I wrote that, a guy just sat down next to me, maybe 18 or 19 and asked me to help him with a computer problem. I'm messing with his wireless networks and making conversation, asking him what he is doing in the middle-of-nowhere-Korea. He tells me he came to Korea to train with a great Taekwondo master for the Olympics, which he qualified for. I said, "great man, congradulations. Where are you from?"


An sudden chill ran down my face. "You are competing for Afganistan?"

"Yes. And you? You are from where?" He asked.

A thousand things ran through my mind in the split second before I replied, "The US." The one thought that emerged from the thousand was, "here is a very rare opportunity to bridge a gap."

We spent the next twenty minutes talking about our goals, our homes and computer problems. I never did fix his computer. My efforts fell a bit short. But maybe fixing a computer problem wasnt the point of our meeting.

Here I am, a few minutes south of the North Korean border, using a Korean mobster for transportation and connections, and befriending an Olympian from Kabul. Fantastic.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Final Round

I finished off the tournament at even par 288 for a t-35 finish. I actually played well this week, but wasnt able to hit the shots in succession that led to the lowest score. I hit three wayward shots, all of which cost me double bogeys. Every hole on this course had out of bounds on the right side and out of bounds on the left. Any wayward shot left you with a two stroke penalty. I made one other double bogey after hitting a perfect shot, but misjudged the wind. Those four holes cost me minimally, 8 strokes (a difference of about $9k in the final distribution). I've got my solid shot outfit on and if I can find my scoring cap, I may put a matching outfit together this coming week. After a long day on the course, I had a crazy adventure that led me into the back seat of a Korean mobsters car. That is a story for tomorrow's blog. For now, I am safe and my golf game is improving.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Round 3

I played solid golf for 14 holes today. I was -2 for the day and -6 for the tournament, had made it up around the top 15 and hadn't yet received my step dad's email that said, "just forget the score." I wanted to get myself in contention for the final round and as the south Korean heat beat down on my visor, I pushed myself...too hard. It was at this point where my ego began writing checks my mind and body weren't ready to cash and I played the last four holes in a disasterous +4. I left the course disappointed, feeling like I had just hit a concrete wall at full speed. Another lesson experienced the hard way. I'll take the feelings from the first 14 holes and my step dad's advice into tomorrow. A solid finish will give me some momentum to take into the next tournament.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

RD 2

I posted -1, 71 today for round 2. I am at -4 for the tournament headed into the weekend. I have yet to make a putt over 10 feet in this tournament so I know if I can get the blade rollin' tomorrow, I will find myself in the top 10 come sunday. I hit a perfect shot and misjudged a wind gust today, which cost me a double bogey. I flew a five iron 220 over the pin and back of the 12th green and into the forest. It's a game of shoulda, coulda, woulda, but despite a few mistakes and putts that have yet to find the hole, it's fantastic to be back under par in competition. I would love to write more, but the hotel made me commit my first born son in exchange for use of the 'net. Thanks for the support!

Opening Round

I posted 69 (-3) to open the tournament today. The course played very easy with minimal wind and very accessible pin positions. Besides one double bogey, I was back in Baldwin-esque form making six birdies and giving myself many opportunities. I am on the verge of a breakout performance this week.

Lots to say, but I have a 5:30 wakeup coming tomorrow for an early tee time. Congradulations to two of my best friends, Eric and De, who became engaged this week! On that note, lots of great times ahead, both on the course and elsewhere.

Good night from South Korea.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Philos Open

I made the day long trek from Taiwan to the northern part of South Korea yesterday for the Philos Open. We are 45 minutes from the North Korean border, which is where next week's tournament is. After taking a bus two hours through Seoul, I was dropped off in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I had been "holding it" the entire ride and couldn't wait to find a place for relief. Most asian countries have public bathrooms in the middle of a town. In my experience, you can't just run into a restaurant and use their bathroom unless you find a KFC or McD's. I ran around from store to store in an effort to find an english speaker who knew the whereabouts of a public hole in the ground. No one seemed to have any clue what I was asking. My golf clubs in one hand, a laptop bag on my back and duffel bag in the other hand, there I was playing cherades, and apparently, not being a good actor.

"Hey! Park Lee-Jong, come check out the goofy foreigner pretending he's sitting on the can!!" I imagine they got a good laugh. When I finally found a place, the feeling was equivalent to making 9 straight birdies!

I am staying at a ski resort, 30 minutes from the golf course. This place is like the Bates Motel on horror pills. Not a sole in the place but me and no restaurant within 15 minutes. Luckily, my bathroom adventure led me into a small Mart where I picked up a few cans of tuna and eggs. In 1762, when they most likely built my hotel room, they invented the stove and threw it in. My diet this week will consist of tuna omelete two-a-days. Protein loading.

This morning, I replied to some questions sent to me by the Union Leader (so look for that back home in the coming week)and rushed off to my practice round. I played with Atonori Tori, a player from the Japanese Tour. Our caddie spoke fluent Chinese and Japanese, but no english, so I was at least able to communicate with a bit of "Zhongwen." An increadibly impressive attribute many asian people have is their language skill. I have met handfulls of people that speak 3 or 4 asian languages. When you've tried to learn one yourself, you have a huge appreciation for anyone able to utilize multiple tongues (my phrasing sounds like an exotic french kiss).

The golf course is short and tight. As usual, O.B. lines both sides of nearly every hole. I am hitting my driver as straight as I did on Borneo Island, when I picked up a victory at Asian Tour Q-School. I drove three-340 yard plus, greens today. I hit all but one faiway and never had more than a pitching wedge left for any approach shot. It was fun. If I am able to take that same dominating, fun mentality into this week, I will surely contend for a victory. My mentality and execution since the last event have improved every day. Today was the most aligned my body has been with my mind since December. If this trend continues, I may turn a vision of walking down the 72nd hole at 20 under par into reality.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Coming Home and Finding My Essence

Whew! What a week! I've spent every second of it walking, talking, acting and swinging as though I won my last tournament and will win my next. Golf is getting easier. Thank you Universe!! It has been a challenging few months since beginning my quest for Korean Tour glory. What I began to uncover in the last event was the tension that escalates over every shot in competition. It is partially due to narrower golf courses riddled with white o.b. pegs everywhere and technique that has been sub-standard, but to be successful as a pro golfer, those factors have to be handled with enhanced relaxation and enjoyment. I have known this all along, but the difference between knowing it in your conscious mind and subconscious mind equates to many strokes.

I have spent every day waking up and feeling the jubilation of winning; the roars of the crowd as the winning putt falls over the front edge of the hole; the tremendous fist pump I will throw to the gallery; the smiles I will give during my victory speech; a bank account with enough green to swim in. I've held onto those feelings as I go through my daily routine and it has yielded more fun and precision in practice and lower scores on the course. I posted 66 this week in a match; the lowest score I've posted in two months. My game is headed to a higher level. The last two months of trials have brought new appreciation for great play and less blame and guilt when that play is not present; I have more love for myself and my golf game. It may have seemed like a step back, but by the end of the year, this phase will have sent me three steps forward. I could not be more excited for the coming successes and I will love them one swing at a time.

Beginning next week, I play two consecutive events in Korea before coming home for July. I have to say, I am almost as excited to make a mouth-watering cheese burger on the grill and sleep on a non-bamboo comprised mattress, as anything else. Until I get to savor that juicy, sweet and fatty flavor, it is back to work. This time, I am armed with the ultimate weapon: the love of the game.