After almost a year in prison, I'm thrilled to be playing pro golf again

People who really know me can tell you that I've always been someone who sees a glass half full, someone who likes to look forward, never back. I'm grateful that my presence was missed on the Champions tour, because I sure missed playing golf -- especially­ at this level.

Back in 2009 I pleaded guilty to failing to pay income taxes. Recently, I completed a more than yearlong sentence and was released. I've heard people say that they could never have done that. Trust me, you don't want to be there, but you'd be surprised what you can do if you have to. The closest I got to golf while I was in prison was watching it on TV.

Now that I'm out, I'm in the process of paying my debts, and I sincerely apologize to everybody. Plain and simple, I had people managing my business, and we made mistakes. I was more focused on chasing a golf ball around the world. Athletes can be that way -- so intense about performing that they turn the rest of their lives over to someone else and believe everything is being handled properly.

I can assure you that I now have the right people in my corner. The new team consists of a trusted banker I've come to know, a fine attorney and some exceptional marketing and media relations people. Each member of Team Thorpe, as I affectionately call them, has a reputation for dotting all the i's and crossing all the t's.

On my drive to the TPC Tampa Bay on April 12 for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, I was never so nervous going to a golf course. I was hopeful, but I didn't know how the pros were going to receive me. It turns out that I got a lot of hugs, a lot of "good to have you back" and a lot of "we missed you." A number of my fellow Champions tour professionals, and many fans, had written to me while I was away, but it was like my first day all over again. Once I settled in, it was great to be back in professional golf, which I've called home for most of my adult life. (I joined the PGA Tour in 1975.) The fans and amateur partners were great! Friends came to Tampa to cheer me on.

Now it's about playing golf as well as I can and continuing to bring value to everyone associated with the game. As the year progresses, I'll get better and better. I am hungrier to contend and win than I've ever been. I'm doing my stretching exercises every morning and eating healthier. Even though I'm 62, I feel like a 42-year-old when I am playing. I consider myself blessed, and I can only hope others can learn and grow as I have.

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