LINKS LETTER, OCTOBER 2001

LETTING GO

By Joe Durant

At the end of 1991, I had yet to learn to let go. I was still beating up on myself.

Since I was seven years old, I had dreamed about becoming a golf pro. After I became one, I found out it wasn’t what I thought. I was traveling all the time, away from Tracey, my wife. We’d just had Connor, our new baby girl, and I wasn’t happy being gone all the time.

I’d had high expectations when I turned pro, but by the fall of 1991, I felt I had failed completely and was totally disenchanted with golf. One night I was bemoaning how bad I had been playing, when Tracey made me aware of how I had been treating myself.

“Joe, you ever play a team sport?” she asked.

I’d played most sports growing up—baseball, football, and basketball. About everything. “Absolutely,” I said, curious about what she was going to say.

“Would you beat up on one of your teammates the way you beat up on yourself?” she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“You’re sabotaging yourself, Joe.”

I knew she was right. “Tracey, I’m not happy. I don’t like being away from you and Connor. There has to be something better.”

She knew I wasn’t happy, and she wasn’t surprised when I told her later that I had decided to quit playing competitive golf and get a job near our home in Pensacola, Florida.

She wasn’t surprised, either, that after two unsuccessful jobs that winter, I was still unhappy.

First I had tried to become an insurance agent. It took less than 30 days, in which I didn’t sell one policy, to figure out I wasn’t cut out for the insurance industry. So I looked for another job that had something to do with golf. I found it in the warehouse of Edwin Watts’ mega golf outlet in Fort Walton. Edwin told me, “Work in the warehouse for a few months, do a good job and we’ll work you into the front store.”

I accepted his offer and was back in golf again. Loading. Unloading. Packing. Unpacking. You name it, I did it. I was making $2,000 per month, $1,500 after taxes. It wasn’t much money, but a regular check was something I’d never had before. But in March, the volume of work picked up. I was working longer hours but making less than what I’d made playing golf. Meanwhile, the weather was getting better and some of my friends were leaving to play in tournaments. My heart wasn’t in a warehouse.

Being around golf equipment all day long did something for me, though. It got the wheels turning again. My attitude hadn’t changed. I still wasn’t happy. But I started thinking about playing again.

One night Tracey and I were at home and Connor was sleeping. I was thinking, This is crazy. I’m going nowhere. Tracey and I are getting less time together than when I was competing. I told Tracey what I was thinking.

“Before you do anything else,” she said, “let’s think about this. What do you want to do?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m doing what I’m cut out to do,” I said. “I think I’d like to play again.”

Tracey looked me straight in the eye. “If you try again,” she began, “you’ve got to get your head screwed on straight. Make sure you’re thinking right.”

She didn’t have to tell me. I already knew my biggest problem: me. I was my own worst enemy. I had to learn how to be my own best friend, something I had never been.

I was brought up to believe in God and Jesus. During the month I came to the realization that I had been in my own service, not His service. I realized my beating up on myself was because I had been resisting Him and what it might mean if I was in His service.

One night, I had a heart-to-heart talk with God. I let go. “I give,” I prayed. “You tell me what You want me to do and I’ll do it.”

The next day, like the morning sun, it dawned on me that I’d been given a great opportunity by God. All at once, it didn’t matter whether I played mini-tours, the Nike Tour (now BUY.COM Tour), or the PGA Tour. What mattered was that I be the best I could be at whatever He wanted me to be.

Until that period in my life, I hadn’t realized that when I played bad, I felt like a bad person. I was my own worst critic. Overly so. I mean, I was beat-up, critical with myself.

Tim Trent, my pastor, was another person besides Tracey who helped straighten out my mind. Tim taught me to tell myself, “Joe, God loves you whether you shoot 100 or 60. Your value is not based upon your performance.”

So when I started playing again in the spring of 1992, it was like starting all over.

I was battling myself, wanting to believe in myself and what I could do. People can come up to you and say, “I believe in you” or “I see ability in you,” but until you feel it in your heart and know it in your mind, it doesn’t have much effect.

Before the previous fall, my life had been more about fear than acceptance. I’d been brought up to fear the Lord. That caused me to hold the Lord at bay and kept me from a more intimate, personal relationship with Him. I learned to embrace Him. The realization of the opportunity I’d been given produced a feeling of gratitude and thankfulness in me. And the more thankful I was, the less fear I felt.

I always believed the Lord was there to protect and to help, not only in great times, but also in the lowest times. And I could always count on Him being there. But it wasn’t until I had lost my card and was working in the warehouse that I really knew God was there.

And I knew too what a great opportunity He had given me.

When I started to play again, I decided that instead of bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t on the PGA Tour or Nike Tour, I would be thankful that I was playing at all. I would be the best I could be on the mini-tours or wherever I had a chance to play.

Another person who helped me that year was Andy Petnuch, my golf teacher, who has since passed away. He was big on goals and routine. He helped me set some goals to improve my driving length, accuracy, iron play, putting, scoring average, everything I had some control over. Before 1992 I had just winged it. Andy helped me get focused.

With all these changes on my side, 1992 turned out to be a great year. I became the Jordan Tour Player of the Year, and that fall I qualified for the PGA Tour.

But the following season, I won just $4,022. I lost my Tour card and didn’t play well enough at Tour Qualifying School in 1993 to get it back. But I did win an exemption on the Nike Tour, where I played in ’94, ’95, and ’96.

In 1996, I won the Mississippi Classic and had four top-three finishes. I made my first good money, $159,000. More importantly, my play earned me a spot on the PGA Tour again.

I started slow in 1997, but in the last 15 tournaments, I made 14 cuts and finished 100th on the money list. My driving had improved so much over the past seven years that I led the Tour in total driving that season.

But my biggest break came at the Western Open the following year in Chicago.

Vijay Singh was leading going into the last round. I was playing well, only three shots behind. I shot 33 on the front nine that last day. Going into 14, I was one shot back. Then I birdied 14, 15, and 17 to shoot 66. Vijay shot 70. I won my first Tour event and $396,000.

In one week, I had won more than I would have made in 10 years working for Edwin Watts. Plus, I gained a two-year exemption on Tour, a spot in the Mercedes Tournament of Champions, the World Series of Golf, and the Masters.

When the 2000 season rolled around, I was pumped. Until Pebble Beach.

Tracey and I had an ongoing difference about how our bags should be packed. I liked to pack one large suitcase. Tracey preferred packing three smaller ones to hold about the same amount of clothing. I had told her that loading and unloading all her bags was going to drive me crazy.

So at Pebble Beach, she brought one huge duffel bag, stuffed full, to placate me. It weighed as much as my clubs. I yanked the shoulder strap of it off the ground like a weightlifter but failed to hoist it to my shoulder. I should have dropped it when I knew I wasn’t going to make it. But macho me, I forced it. Something in my upper body snapped.

I played with increasing pain that week and it wasn’t until San Diego the following week that I realized I’d fractured one rib and cracked another.

A few weeks later, at the Masters, I played in a rib brace. I shot a humiliating 87, but I achieved one of my lifetime goals, playing in the Masters.

I healed up until the middle of the year and fortunately made my last 18 cuts to keep my card. As I reviewed the year, I was pleased with my driving and iron play, but my putting and chipping were still weak. To get to the next competitive level, I knew that was where I had to improve. I worked hard in the off-season. When I began this year, I set some pretty lofty goals. I wanted to win again and make $1 million in official winnings.

Things happened fast. In February, at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, I putted as well as anytime in my life. I shot an 11-under 61 in the second round to grab the lead. My putter stayed hot the rest of the week and on into March. I won both the Hope and the Doral tournaments.

Suddenly I was mobbed by the press. I had jumped to the top spot on the Tour money list, and many writers were saying that Tiger Woods was in a slump. I had played with Tiger in Phoenix and he hadn’t looked like he was in any slump to me!

Sure enough, my reign as the Tour’s leading money winner didn’t last long. Tiger won at Bay Hill, then The Players Championship at Sawgrass, and finally the Masters—three big tournaments in a row.

My good putting stroke ended in the spring, but I continued to play well until Westchester, when I started getting pain in my neck and left arm. During the second round, my thumb suddenly went numb. I felt like I had no power in my left arm.

The next week, I checked it out with Steve Cope, my doctor at home. It turned out I had an inflamed disk of the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae. I probably should have laid off a few weeks, but the summer was here, and I didn’t want to miss the U.S. Open, nor the British. But playing in England in cold weather was painful in more ways than one. I missed the cut, and I have not played well since.

I would have loved to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup matches. I came close. Up until the last two weeks, I held one of the ten automatic slots. But I finished 51st at the PGA Championship, and my chance slipped away.

Still, I am thankful for what a great year this has been.

What are my goals now? I want to do what I’ve been doing since I left Edwin Watts: Let go of my expectations. Remind myself that golf is still a game—it’s not a life or death proposition. Do my best. If I give my best, I can live with that. But I can’t live when I don’t give my best.

Not to be coy, but my goal this week is to put my tee shot on the fairway on number one and keep going from there.

COPYRIGHT 2001 LINKS PLAYERS INTERNATIONAL

  • Joe Durant

    4 PGA Tour Wins: 1998 Motorola Western Open, 2001 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, 2001 Genuity Championship, 2006 FUNAI Classic

    2 PGA Tour Champions Wins: 2015 Legends of Golf (with Billy Andrade), 2016 3M Championship