AUGUSTA, Ga. – Splitting time on the PGA and Web.com tours, Vaughn Taylor didn’t have plans for Masters week a year ago.
With his career sputtering, he hadn’t qualified for his hometown event since 2008 – cruel, really, seeing how he lives about 15 minutes from the entrance of Augusta National Golf Club. And so Taylor, a multiple Tour winner and former Ryder Cupper, took wife Leot and young son Locklyn to the Masters, but as a spectator, after securing practice-round tickets.
“I had always been a little hesitant to come back,” Taylor said Monday. “I wanted to wait until I got back in the tournament. And the way I’ve been playing and the way things were going, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back.”
But he did, improbably, shrugging off months (and years) of indifferent play to win at Pebble Beach in February and snap an 11-year winless drought.
The circumstances surrounding Taylor’s victory were even more unlikely.
He described the week before Pebble as one of the low points of his career – he had been violently ill in a hotel room in Bogota, pleading for his body to recover from a rough bout of food poisoning. He didn't have a PGA Tour card, and he only held conditional status on the Web.com circuit. He arrived at Pebble with a carry stand bag, because it was cheaper to travel. And during the final round, he not only needed to hole a 30-footer on 16, but he watched as Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson coughed up the 54-hole lead and whiffed a 5-footer on the final green.
“It was one of those when-you-least-expect-it moments,” Taylor said.
It wasn’t until a TV interview afterward that Taylor was reminded of more than just his two years of job security. He was heading back to the Masters.
“It’s a lot different this time around,” he said. “I got here a lot different path, and it’s special.
“When you’re younger, you expect to play well, and you kind of take things for granted. I thought I would be in every year, but that was just being kind of young and dumb.”
Taylor led the Masters with 21 holes to go in 2007. (He eventually tied for 10th.) A year later, he qualified for his first and only U.S. Ryder Cup team, but he’s fallen on hard times since, failing to clear $600,000 in earnings from 2011-15.
What to do, then, for that one week a year when the sport’s biggest show comes to his hometown, but he's not invited?
Some years, Taylor played golf at a neighboring course. Other times, he’d watch the coverage on TV.
“But I always wanted to be home,” he said. “I feel like I’m part of the tournament.”
And last year, he actually was. Taylor and the family headed out to the course for the first time since ’08, just for fun. It turned into a few hours of chasing 16-month-old Locklyn around the course, keeping him from ducking under the ropes or causing a scene, but he was on the grounds nonetheless.
His plans for this year? Well, before his victory at Pebble, Taylor had a tough decision to make.
With only partial status on the Web.com Tour, he was exempt into the first five events on the schedule. That meant he would have needed to fly to Colombia for this week’s event or risk falling further down the priority list.
“I could be in Cartagena this week,” he said with a laugh.
Instead, he’s happy to be home.