All the dedication, hard work, long hours, grueling mental work, it all comes down to this moment.
You know, you never realize the significance of an event until it's over. My first ever professional event was in August of 2018 in which I played in at Advocates Professional Tour Event in Los Angeles, CA at Chester Washington Golf Club. My collegiate career was over due to my eligibility that May, and I had played in a few amateur events pretty well in June and July of that summer. So, after a long talk with people who I knew, my gf, my parents, my friends, and my siblings, I gave it a shot. I wrote my name down as a professional in a professional event. It was time to go.
I had done the prep work during the practice round gauging pins, places to miss, etc. I had already played that golf course once so I knew the grass and course pretty well. So I had practiced all I could, and I went home before the first round knowing that tomorrow would be my first day as a professional. My time tee was set early at 8 so I went home, I prepared my outfit for the next day, and tried my hardest to sleep even though that didn't work out too well lol. I finally nodded off, was able to sleep getting ready for tomorrow.
The next morning was like a scene in a movie. I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast, and listened to heavy hitting rap motivational music all the way over to the golf course. Now, my brother is also a professional golfer and so is my father, so we all went to the tournament. We are all from Florida so going to LA for that tournament was really special. My brother played in the tournament as well, and my father watched and helped with tournament operations. So all three of us go to the golf course at 7 am. I go through my usual warm up routine, but I knew something was different but I just couldn't describe it. I was hitting shots, but it just felt like it was more profound like everything was in slow motion. The golf ball taking off from the driving range, the putts rolling off the putter face on the putting green, everything seemed to have more of a purpose. Then 7:50 hits, and the announcer yells "8:00 tee time, to the first tee." I knew it was time.
Let me tell you, you think you've nervous when you're presenting your project in front of a class. Nothing compares to your name being called to tee off in front of the clubhouse, with all of the professional golfers watching you, the parents, the friends of the players, the working staff, the tournament directors, your family. Not only that, but the announcer says "On the tee for the 8:00 tee time, from Pensacola FL, playing in his first ever event as a professional, Joseph Stills". Everyone claps, then silence. OMG was I nervous lol. I have played in events like this before, but this in on another level. The first hole on this golf course was a straight away par 4 with no water or out of bounds so thank goodness it wasn't that tough of a shot. I take a deep breath, I do my pre-shot routine and I hit it. It soars in the air so gracefully and it lands on the right hand side of the fairway. It unfortunately rolls into the rough, but that shot felt like I won the Masters when I make contact with the ball lol. Everyone claps and I'm off, I was happy as a child going down that fairway.
The happiness turns into concentration as I par my first hole and slowly stay at level par for the round. I was pretty timid with my putts so I wasn't making too many opportunities. I wanted to compose my mental game as much I could throughout the round, knowing I could easily get off track thinking about the severity of the situation. I took it one hole at a time, and managed to shoot an even par 70 (the par for the course is 70). I'll take the outcome, but wanted a better result tomorrow. I practice after my round, go home, and sleep like a baby. It was a stressful day with the next day about to be more gruesome.
The second felt like it lasted 7 hours, I has placed from the first round in the middle of the pack of players so I knew I needed to play better the second day to make some money. I needed to make some putts and keep it in play. I did the preparation, it's time to shine. I arrive at the course, do my normal routine and I waited for my tee time to start. The same scenario hap I started off the first three holes with pars, then go birdie, birdie to get to 2 under and stay there until 17. 17 is a long par 4 and I hit a bad drive, leaving me with a long second shot which I miss the green and do not get up a down. I had a feeling 2 under for the tournament was gonna make a check so I needed to birdie 18. 18 is a par 5 and the easiest to get in two. So, I took a deep breath and ripped one right down the middle.
I proceeded to have 200 yards into the green, and ripped a 5 iron to 20 feet. I lagged the first one to about two feet. But this two footer was special and I knew it, now you may think a two footer is no problem, but with money on the line it felt like a five footer. I told myself a million times that your gonna have putts like these that count and I prepared for it. I looked at my target, did my pre-shot routine, and holed it. What a rush, I finished at 2 under 68 and 2 under for the tournament, signed my scorecard, and waited.
If you talk with any professional, there is nothing worse than waiting to see if you make a check on the last day knowing you are close to the bubble for making money or not. It is so stressful, and I had to wait for an hour for the rest of the field to finish. Boy that felt like 4 days, and I couldn't keep still. I waited as each group came in, signed their scorecard and left. More and more people started to surround the scoreboard, faces changed with for the better or worse, as people's hopes rose or felt from each score added to the scoreboard. The silence is unbearable, then the last scorecard comes in. The tournament directors tally up the scores, and leaves no mistake left out on the course or from the scores. The results were in...
The reception was right after this, and scores and awards would be displayed there. All the players come in the banquet hall. The announcers thank the sponsors and all the help for the tournament. Then the results are in, and I wait. Then the speaker says "coming in T-21 with a score of 138 and the winner of $200, Joseph Stills". That birdie on the last hole meant that I made a check right at the bottom number. My heart jumped! I made a check on my first ever professional event. I was ecstatic!! I took the check, shook the tournament directors and staff hands, and proceeded to go home happy. I know it's only $200, it felt like a lot more. I took that check home with me, and framed it. I still have it to this day actually, and hopefully that's the first of many.
Not a bad way to start off your career.