Yes, I missed the cut in my first U.S. Open, but how many
19-year-olds have had the chance to meet Byron Nelson, bump into
Jack Nicklaus, break bread with Tiger Woods and appear on
television all in the same week? I did, and those experiences
outweigh any problems I had inside the ropes.
I got a taste of the Open last year at Pinehurst, where I caddied
for my brother, Andy, then a 21-year-old student at Arizona, but
looping for him was nowhere near as exciting as playing. On the
Tuesday before the tournament I was having lunch in the player's
lounge, and at the table next to me was Tiger Woods and Mark
O'Meara. The next morning I was about to tee off in a practice
round with Jim Furyk and J.P. Hayes when Jim said, "Come here, I
want to introduce you to somebody." That somebody turned out to
be Byron Nelson.
Never has my heart pounded harder than it did before I hit my
first shot on Thursday. With grandstands surrounding the tee
box, I felt as if a million eyes were looking at me. That's the
opposite of college golf--I will be a sophomore at
Arizona--where I often play in front of nobody but the birds.
Thankfully, I hit my best shot of the week, a rope right down
the middle. I opened bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey, but then
I settled down and shot 80. The day wasn't a total bust,
however. That night in my room at the motel I saw myself on TV
draining a 20-foot putt for birdie at the 10th hole. I rebounded
on Friday and shot a 73 that included an eagle on the par-5 6th,
where I nailed a 210-yard three-iron shot to six inches from the
Playing at Pebble Beach was a million times more thrilling than
I thought it would be. Missing the cut only makes me more hungry
to qualify for next year's Open at Southern Hills, where I'll be
sure to hang around for the weekend.
Ricky Barnes is the 1999-2000 NCAA Golf Freshman of the Year.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND