PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – In the zippered reality of the Web.com Tour Finals, Vaughn Taylor is at ground zero in his professional quest to play the PGA Tour again.
With just this week’s Web.com Tour Championship remaining, Taylor is $1,107 ahead of No. 51 on the Finals money list, or – put another way - $1,107 away from spending another year on the secondary tour.
It’s been four years since Taylor contended in the big leagues, and while he showed flashes of the game that lifted him to two PGA Tour titles, it was largely forgettable season with just three top-10 finishes, including a tie for 10th place at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
But as the 38-year-old went through his practice paces early Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass, professional panic was replaced by personal perspective. That’s what happens when one gazes into the cold reality of mortality.
A month ago this Monday, Aug. 11, Taylor was having a career day on the Savannah River near his home in Augusta, Ga. It was a spot he’d fished “hundreds of times,” just below a large dam in rough water but the payoff was an aching arm from all the bass he’d caught.
He was alone, not wearing a life vest and the lines he was using to keep his boat anchored, one at the front and one at the back of his boat, were old.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Taylor admitted.
Without warning, the line anchoring the bow of his vessel broke and before he knew it his small bass boat was being swamped by water. When he entered the rough and chilly water, he originally hoped he could save the boat from sinking but within moments his concerns turned to his own life.
“It was so cold and the current was so strong, I tried to swim against it at first and realized that was a mistake,” he said. “I really thought for a minute that I could drown.”
Although he estimates he was in the water for about 10 minutes, Taylor said it felt like an hour as he floundered. A park ranger who was nearby began yelling instructions to Taylor, but he couldn’t hear what the man was saying because of the roar of the river. He was later told officials closed the dam to lessen the current.
Eventually Taylor, realized the ranger was telling him to swim with the current and he finally caught a break when a waterproof bag he was using to store his fishing tackle came into his view.
“I got lucky. It was a gift from God sending that tackle box my way,” said Taylor, who used the bag as a floatation device.
Taylor eventually made it to the bank where he spent the better part of a half hour regaining his senses. “That whole night and into the next day I just kept thinking about how close I’d come to drowning,” he said.
Taylor did have the presence of mind to turn his bilge pump on before going overboard and officials eventually recovered the aluminum boat. He used it to return to his Savannah River “honey hole” a few days after the incident with new ropes to secure his anchor along with a fresh perspective.
“That first time I went back was kind of spooky just because it so fresh in my mind. When you’re in the water, everything slows down and you start wondering if this is it,” Taylor said.
So forgive Taylor if his predicament on the Web.com Tour Finals money list this week doesn’t exactly keep him up at night. Reclaiming his PGA Tour card is important, particularly for a guy who not that long ago (2006) spent this week getting ready for a Ryder Cup. But just having the opportunity to be at TPC Sawgrass for this week’s finale is a reason to celebrate.