First, I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the overwhelming support I have received since this journey began. Without all of my friends, the most talented group of golfers on Okinawa: the GAGGLE, the support from the United States Marine Corps, my swing coach of the All-Marine Golf Team, Andy Hinson, and my unbelievable family, none of this would have been possible. To you all I owe the greatest debt of gratitude and a sincere thank you for all that you have done for me!
Being selected for Big Break was a dream come true for the average guy like me. Sitting in my house in Okinawa Japan watching Big Break Dominican Republic my wife asked me why I have never tried out for the show. My immediate response was a laugh with 'guys like me never get picked for that show'! She told me you never know; you are a great golfer and have a great story to tell. Without my wife believing in me, I probably would have never submitted an application. For that baby, I will never forget what you had done for me! Giving a guy who’s a poor kid from Rhode Island the opportunity to potentially fulfill my greatest dream of becoming a professional golfer will never be forgotten.
The final show in which I was eliminated was one for the ages! The first two episodes I did not play particularly well... I was doing just enough to survive and move on, but I was not striking the ball very well. My swing has been rebuilt so many times over the years because of all the injuries I have had in my Marine Corps career. My swing is very flat because my left shoulder will not allow it to get on a higher swing plane because of the surgery I had on it a few years ago. Combine this, the surgery I had on my foot in September, and the very cold weather in the morning, meant I could not get loose. No one really knew this on the show but I was in the hot tub almost every morning around 0500 hours to help loosen up a bit. That said, by the third episode, I was finally getting into the groove and was looking forward to playing but I did not even need to hit a shot - - SWEET! If anyone were to ask those guys if you would rather had broken glass or be safe to the next show, they all would have told you: 'I'll take safe please'.
My challenge with Will was an exciting one! Will hit a really good tee shot just short of the bunker’s right. I wanted to put some pressure on him so I took a really aggressive line and tried to carry the bunker on the left; that early in the morning that was a big mistake! I had one of the toughest shots in golf: the 40ish yard bunker shot with a 8 foot lip in front and did not pull it off. “Will the Thrill” hit another great shot that he almost holed out which lead me to have to make a shot which I did not. Great job Will; you really impressed me brother!
Now we turn to the Blackjack Challenge... I want to scream like Oren did during the commercial, HAHAH! The viewers will never truly know what is going on through the competitors’ minds when they are hitting these shots. Almost no one knows (except those who were there) that we got to hit two practice shots before the actual challenge. It was at that point where I saw Shank hit to Kings for a 20! I remembered the sound of the shots that he hit during the practice and they were the exact same when the challenge began. I was not far off because the 5 he hit just rolled out of the K which would have been a 20. My failure of that challenge was not the decision to hit on 18 but the first shot I hit a 3; HELLO BONEHEAD! When I decided to hit the fourth shot it was for one reason alone: I wanted to hold my own destiny in my own hands. If I chose to not hit that shot and Shank did have 20 I would have never been able to live with myself. The 3 was the first block in front of me. If it were in the middle of the grid I would have maybe stood but again, I wanted to hold my own destiny in my hands. If Shank did not have 15 but had 20 and I decided to hit again I would have looked like a genius but instead I will be forever remembered for the guy who hit on 18! I told myself that if I did not win the show I wanted to be remembered, not by being a clown on the show but just remembered. Boy, did I accomplish that objective!!!
Going into the final challenge with Dave was a chance at redemption for me. He had beaten me in our last three meetings and I wanted an opportunity for a win. David is an unbelievably talented young golfer and I knew beating him was going to be hard since I knew he was going to have at least a half-shot advantage. I was a little surprised when he purchased the half shot but it led me to my suspicion; he was nervous. I was hoping that he remembered the other times he beat me and I could have been possibly due for a win. The first stage was not that hard, Dave hit a great shot and I hit a little 9 iron bump ‘n run that just let out a little more than it should have; now I am 2 shots with Dave at 0! The second stage was a little tough shot, the rough was gnarly off a side hill lie. Dave hit his first one short and then nailed the second one - - HERE WAS MY CHANCE! I needed to hit a one, which I did. Going into the third shot anything could have happened. Dave hits his first one in by an inch or two. If that one would have been out who knows what would have happened... I missed my first one a little right and the second left and stuffed the third one. All Dave needed to do was hit the green form 180 which he did and the match was over... Well done Dave aka Young One... Keep fighting brother, you are going to do great things in the golf world!
As of this week, I will be heading to Afghanistan for another deployment with 3rd Battalion 6th Marines. I once again get the great opportunity to serve with some of the greatest Americans this country produces! Please keep them in your prayers and for a safe return home! Where the rest of my life goes from here will be much clearer after this deployment. The excitement, pain, sorrow etc... that comes with a deployment like this is indescribable but it is what Marines do best. Many of the Marine-isms that I used on the show were for entertainment value but is the mindset of a Marine: One Mind Any Weapon. You do not take your foot off them until the match is over. Yes, it is golf, but you are in a metaphorical 'fight' on the golf course...
To all of the golfers on Big Break Indian Wells, well done gentlemen... You are great golfers so please continue the dream of chasing happiness, to play on the PGA Tour! As Quintus Horatius Flaccus said 'Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero!” The viewers will never know how close of a group we all became in the short time we were there. You all are truly fine gentlemen and you are part of the reason why I have served my country for the last 18 years.
Finally, I would like to say to my children.. You are great kids and make my life that much more meaningful! I know you do not truly grasp what dad was trying to do on the TV right now but you will later in life. I wanted the opportunity to potentially give my children a life with their dad having to leave with the fear of him never coming home. That is why I was teary-eyed at the end of the show; I felt like I let them down... I love you JoJo and KiKi more than you will ever know!!!
Master Sergeant Russell Normandin
United States Marine Corps