Sport Golf

Saturday 22 July 2017

Mickelson's miss makes Taylor's day

Vaughn Taylor, left, with Clint Eastwoodon the 18th green at Pebble Beach after his victory in the AT&T National. Photo: AP
Vaughn Taylor, left, with Clint Eastwoodon the 18th green at Pebble Beach after his victory in the AT&T National. Photo: AP
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The game of golf and of life has been strewn with rose petals for Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth compared with the experience of newly-crowned AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion Vaughn Taylor.

McIlroy (26) and Spieth (22) were blessed with a raw talent and a drive for success from the start, virtually from the first day they got a golf club in their tiny hands as children.

Their journey from talented kids to Major champions and 20-something multi-millionaires was facilitated by their family structure where dreams were nurtured and hard work expected.

And when they won, they won big. And they expect to keep winning.

Taylor, by contrast, was hardly a legend in his own golf club.

You would want to be a ridiculously keen student of the game on this side of the Atlantic to remember his name as a member of the US Ryder Cup team defeated by Ian Woosnam's Europe at The K Club in 2006.

Captain Tom Lehman left Taylor out of the action until the Saturday afternoon foursomes before teaming him up with Chad Campbell against Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood. That match was halved.

The following day in the singles, Henrik Stenson took out Taylor by 4&3 en route to a European victory.

Vaughn Taylor? Nah, nobody really knew much about him at all in the wider world of golf.

Well, those days are over now after the 39-year-old from Augusta, Georgia pulled off a magnificent victory at Pebble Beach, edging the great Phil Mickelson into second place.

He then revealed a story that would do justice to a Hollywood tear-jerker.

A two-time PGA Tour winner via the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2004 and 2005, Taylor struggled with form and health issues, most recently at a Web.Com event in Bogota where he had to withdraw due to food poisoning.

He only got into the AT&T field as first alternate and the golfing gods smiled on him as he defeated a field that included World No 1 Spieth, Day, Rickie Fowler and a host of other aristocrats of the PGA Tour.

This is a man who nearly drowned in a boating accident a few years ago, a life-changing event.

"Once you're in the water, in current, without a life jacket, you think it's easy to swim or that, but it really changes when the water's up to your nose and you don't know what's happening," he explained.

Panic

"It was pretty scary. I really thought for a minute that this could be it. Once the panic kind of wore off and I realised, okay, let's get yourself together, then I kind of calmed down and I knew I was going to be okay. I'm really lucky to be alive."

This victory gets him into the Masters but also into the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, starting on Thursday, where the headline act is McIlroy v Spieth.

Taylor, who credits his wife Leot and his two-year old son Locklyn as his inspiration and support, may find it difficult to get his emotions and his game in harness for the tournament, but he's just grateful to be there.

McIlroy and Spieth know well that despite their own expectations and those of media and fans, the game can never be taken for granted.

Spieth got a taste of that when finding himself going into last Sunday 15 shots behind overnight leader Mickelson. Even for him, that was never going to be retrievable.

It's unlikely the Texan and Northern Ireland's McIlroy would ever get complacent about their status, but if they do, Taylor has a message they would do well to heed.

Asked if he had taken his PGA Tour life for granted in the past, he replied: "Yeah, for sure. I think that we all kind of do in a way.

"You get out here, and you have success, and you expect to have it all the time. And that's not really the way it works.

"The best players in the game don't play good every week, and in my case, I didn't play well for quite a few years.

"And looking back on it, I wish I could have done it a little differently and appreciated it a little bit more.

"I definitely did enjoy the ride, but maybe not as much as I should have. But I'll enjoy this, though."

Irish Independent

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