Golf and Life and Death Too
Had you heard of Michael Christie? Maybe you did, maybe not. He was born June 25, 1969. Tragically, he took his life with a single gunshot to the head at his parents home in Greenville, S.C., on April 22, 2004.
Just like that - the promise of resurrecting a once-promising PGA Tour career was gone.
As the obituary tells it, Christie, who attended the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s before rocketing up the ranks toward the life hed worked so hard for, was prepping for a lesson with his teacher in hopes of finding his way again on the Nationwide Tour.
Michael Christie won four times on the Nationwide Tour in the '90s, including his hometown Greater Greenville Classic during a spectacular three win season in 1996.
Stewart Cink led the money list that year. Christie finished second and earned his PGA Tour card.
After a successful PGA Tour rookie season in which he made more than $200,000 and finished among the tours top 125, things really changed.
He suffered one injury after another (back, shoulder, sinuses, etc.) and one missed cut after another (PGA Tour/Nationwide Tour, etc.) And as the story goes, one painkiller after another which ultimately took him down a road he struggled to navigate.
From 1998 until the day his story found a terribly sad conclusion, Christie made little more than $35,000 in PGA Tour sanctioned events.
I remember Christie. I saw him play on both tours. He had fantastic skills and a tremendous confidence in his ability. I interviewed Christie. He had a way about him that could rub you the wrong way, yet he could also seem upbeat and excited about the chance to talk about his day. And he certainly gave me a strong sense that he respected the game and its demands.
Apparently though, Christie was shooting for the stars under a dark cloud of unrelenting depression attached to the struggles of trying to reach golf stardom himself.
Very sadly, Michael Christie is gone. Only he knows for sure the reasons why.
But I really cant believe it. And I believe that in losing him, weve now gained a bit of insight into Tour life that might change the way we perceive golf at its highest level.
These guys and gals might be living the life we as golf fanatics would all like to live. But it isnt always as we think. When theyre not playing the game, theyre thinking the game. When they leave the course, its not always easy to leave the mental load behind.
Those who are lucky enough to be among their respective tours very elite dont worry about keeping their card, but there is always something to occupy the mind. As for those who find themselves on the bubble of exemption each year, well, they find themselves in a world of insecurity. Itll all change when I get that top-5 finish, they probably say to themselves. Just one good week, and Ill be able to settle down and relax a bit.
And in the case of a guy like Christie, heaven forbid injury halts progress and stalls the confidence. Heaven forbid a bout with depression becomes a weight that cant be lifted.
Make no mistake - the life of a professional golfer, while potentially profitable beyond ones dreams, is a never-ending pressure-cooker. GRIND is a good word.
No one really knows what drove Christie to the point of putting an end to his life, but on the day that I sat at my desk, looking to take a bit of a breather, I found myself thankful that I do what I do. Im also a bit more sympathetic now to the plight of every golfer who dares to dream of being like Tiger, or Phil, or Annika. Remember, nothing is given without it being earned by good play. There are no guaranteed contracts for the likes of a Michael Christie.
The message to myself - Be darn careful what you ask for. Dont strive for more than you can realistically handle. If you ever get it, appreciate it. Spend as much time quietly patting yourself on the back for your achievements as you do working hard to go even higher. Never take it for granted. And if it ever slips away, consider yourself a success simply for having reached your goals ' if even for the shortest of time.
I never played on the PGA Tour, or any other professional circuit. But having spent much of my professional life talking with athletes - and golfers in particular - Im wondering if Michael Christies quiet moments before that fatal gunshot were much different from those dealt with by other tour professionals at some time or another.
Are they so single-minded in their quest that they dont often enough stop to smell the roses? Is there a fear that competitive golf is all I know, and thus it becomes too hard to search for happiness outside the game? In other words, is ones perception of a worthwhile life based more on the outcome of each days score than on what goes on around each days round of golf?
I was talking with a PGA Tour player the other day who, in a rather serious moment, confessed to me, Im really struggling right now with the job of being a professional golfer. For that matter, he continued, Im struggling even more with being a father and also a husband.
Think about that the next time you hear someone quip of how great it must be. Think about Michael Christies personal struggles too.
Obviously, tour golfers are really no different than anyone when it comes to dealing with lifes tough times. And yes, they've chosen the life they lead. But, now more apparent to me than ever before, golf as a life, is a life thats pretty tough to keep in its proper perspective.
Email your thoughts to Kraig Kann
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."
Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder
After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.
La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.
"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."
Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.
The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.
"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."