Hi! My name is Thomas Griffin, and I'm embarking on a journey to become a professional golfer.
Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of playing golf for a living. I imagined traveling around and playing the best courses this world had to offer, competing with the best athletes from all over the globe. I never thought I would actually get the chance in my lifetime, but by providence I am finally at a place where I have the ability and means to pursue this dream.
I played golf throughout my childhood, mostly during the summers with my grandfather and the group of “old guys” he played with on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The course was at best a cow pasture (and sadly no longer exists today), but it is where I cut my teeth and really developed the skills I have today.
I started playing golf just as soon as I could walk. When I was a young child, my dad would be outside hitting chip shots in the front yard, and I would stand on the couch and watch him hit back and forth. I would watch him hit sand shots out of the makeshift bunker he created in the backyard. Neither was anything fancy, but as I kid, I could watch him play for hours. Once I could walk, dad got me a plastic club and golf ball and I'd hit it around the front yard just like him for as long as I could.
We were part of a club (Pine Island Country Club) briefly when I was around 5 years old. I played on the Junior Interclub during one summer, and that's about all I remember. We were only part of the club for one year, maybe two and that was all. Most of my learning was playing in my backyard with plastic golf balls, or if I was feeling particularly unchained, real golf balls. Lord knows how many times I hit the house with the real ones…
During the summer near the beginning of my middle school years, my dad sent my brother and I to a little golf center in Mooresville, NC to take lessons from a guy named Bill Bopple. I don't remember much about him other than he was older, proclaimed himself to be a boisterous yankee and wore a straw hat when he was instructing. That summer was the most frustrating summer of my life, as I went from an OK golfer to a terrible one. I just couldn't get the feel for what he was trying to teach at the time. I had developed a fade on most all of my shots and was pretty happy with it, but my body positioning and hip movement was all out of whack.
Bopple taught with an analytical approach, yet he had one primary focus and that was the art of the swing. He focused on bringing all the pieces of the swing together to make it one fluid motion. At the time, it was maddening going from at least hitting the ball well to shanking every other shot. I even remember crying halfway through the summer and asking not to go anymore because I wasn't getting any better.
Well, as with most golf lessons and practice sessions, you don't really see the results until well after they are over. About 3 weeks after the last lesson, I played my first round of golf and shot the best round I had ever shot at the time – 82. That's not terrible for a 12/13 year old going through some major swing adjustments. All of the practice and lessons had started to make a difference and grooved the foundation of my swing today, particularly the fluidity of my swing.
I played golf on the varsity team of the small Christian school I attended in 7th grade, even managing to place in a couple of tournaments from the back tees (I shot a 48 on the front 9 of Olde Sycamore from the back tees – I was very happy).
When I changed schools the next year, I continued to play on the golf team from 8th grade through high school. I didn't practice much outside of golf season and playing occasionally during the summers, but growth spurts and weight training helped tremendously in improving scoring. When you can go from hitting a driver and 5 iron into a green to a driver and a pitching wedge, it makes scoring so much easier.
All of that chipping and ball hitting practice in the yard had paid off in a huge way. My brother and I would play games around the yard, making holes and putting obstacles in the way to try and figure out how to hit shots. At the time, it was just fun, but I now realize it was great for preparing me to chip around greens in the rough. I was not very accurate off the tee or with approach shots, but I could maneuver chip shots incredibly well, and I putted decently enough to be able to score well. I started regularly shooting in the 70s around 10th grade, even managing my first round under par when I was 16.
But once I finished high school, I decided I wanted to enjoy college and not play golf anywhere. For the better part of 4 years, I played maybe once or twice a year. I could pick up clubs and shoot low 80s or below, but nothing special. During my senior year, I met a guy on the college golf team in one of my classes and we became friends. He invited to come out hit some balls with him one day at a driving range around town, and I'm glad I joined him. That day reignited my enjoyment of golf. I saw how much better he was at ball striking than myself, and as one not liking not being the best, I wanted to try to learn and improve.
After I graduated college and got married, my business in the software industry continued to grow and do well, so I decided I wanted to rejoin the golf club I had been a part of so long ago, Pine Island.
One of the very first things I did was take nothing but my putter out there for 2 or 3 weeks to work on putting. Just before I joined, I had gone on a golf trip with my dad and his church. I played so well except for putting. I shot a 73 one day with 7 3-putts, and I thought I was going to lose my mind. What fun is it to play well if you can't make any putts?
So when I could find the time, I took nothing but my putter out to the putting green at Pine Island and would practice for an hour or two straight (summer was always slow for the business, so I could get away during the day). I made great strides in my putting game and immediately saw my scores start to drop. At some point during that year, I ended up playing golf by chance with the new headmaster of the high school that I used to attend. We hit it off and asked if I would like to coach the high school golf team. I had the time and desire, so I accepted – and it was a blast!
I coached the team for 3 years, and during those 3 years I really honed in one my game. Teaching has a funny way of forcing you to practice what you preach, and that in turn helped me improve on weak areas of my game, especially sand shots and 3-6 footers. It was during that stretch that I began to play very well, shooting my first rounds in the 60s and even having one stretch of 7 or 8 rounds in a row that were under par! My low round during that time (and still is today) was a 65.
As my business continued to grow, time constraints made it harder and harder to coach, so I had to stop coaching after the 3rd year. I wasn't able to play golf as much, but I continued to play at a high level even without the delay practice during golf season.
Around the start of 2017, I began to contemplate playing golf professionally once again. I had contemplated it a few times before, but money was always a big factor in the ability to play. If you haven't heard before, golf is kind of expensive. I never wanted to put my family in jeopardy to pursue a dream, and it was never feasible to think about pursuing it up until last year. I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, so my wife and I had paid off all our debt and our house as well. Without those big ticket items coming out of the paycheck every month, I knew I would have the means to be able to at least start playing on some developmental tours and be able to afford travel, entry fees et al without putting my family in danger.
My wife, Laura, and I started the conversation early in 2017, and after the birth of our son and having time to settle into the new normal of having a baby, we talked about the possibilities of playing golf again. After a few months of praying and talking, we finally decided that now is as good a time as ever to give it a shot.
Today, May 15, 2017 Starts the Journey
So here I am today, May 15, 2017 on the journey to playing golf professionally. I am 28 years old and ready to take on the challenge.
I am not naive enough to believe that I won't make it. There is a very high probability that I won't, and statistically speaking, my best golfing and developmental years are behind me. But we've agreed to give it a go for a little over 5 years (until I am 34), as I believe I will need at least this much time to truly give myself the best chance at making it on a pro level tour.
In terms of golf, I currently stand at a +0.8 handicap index. The average tour pro has a running handicap index of above +4, so I know I have some ground to cover. Unlike plenty of others amateurs, though, I do not discard high scores to try and make my handicap index look better. This is a true handicap index and a good foundation to start from.
With my current work situation, I am working to carve out a couple of hours each morning to focus on golf. I have been working out and training specifically for golf for over a year and will continue to do this at least twice a week. I will also play 18 at least once a week to continue to improve my course management and mental skills. With this practice schedule in mind, I have set a few goals that I need to achieve before I continue on to the next stage of practice, which would include dedicating more time and effort to the game in a deliberate manner.
I am ready for the challenge. I believe I can do it, and that is half of the battle.