It's not uncommon for a PGA Tour rookie to find himself in a prickly situation at some point during his debut season.
For Scott Piercy that moment arrived last Sunday in the form of a cactus.
Playing in just his third event as a Tour member, Piercy was tied for the lead with Kenny Perry and fellow rookie James Nitties at the FBR Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., when Piercy launched his tee shot at the par-5 13th hole into a strip of desert wasteland. His ball tangled with a sinister-looking Cholla cactus and came to rest a few inches behind the plant. A few needles actually wedged into the cover of the ball, creating a Titleist mohawk. TV cameras rolled while the 30-year-old from Las Vegas thought about taking a gamble with his second shot. (You can view the video on yahoo.com)
"That was probably the best drive I had all day, and it ended in a cactus," Piercy said when he was reached by phone. "I thought for a second that I could hit it right through the cactus, but once you start thinking percentages, the chip-out was the right thing to do."
Television analysts praised Piercy's decision as he punched the porcupine ball back into the fairway. He ended up bogeying the hole and finishing tied for sixth, but he learned a few important lessons including a rule that allows players to immediately replace their ball if it becomes damaged.
It's all part of the maturing process Piercy hopes will soon lead to a PGA Tour victory.
"I really didn't have my best stuff from tee to green, and I still had the lead by four at one point, and I was in it on Sunday," he says. "That's pretty positive. I'd like to think if I had my best stuff I could've won."
That's not bravado Piercy seems to be a pretty humble guy, even self-depreciating at times but it's telling that this rookie believes he's ready to win right now. In fact, if we learned anything from the season's opening month, it's that several members of the '09 rookie class are completely undaunted. This group seems primed to approach (and possibly surpass) the success of a 2008 rookie class that produced four Tour winners.
Joining Piercy in the race for Rookie of the Month honors is James Nitties. Nitties missed the cut in his first two events but came through with a big week at the FBR, even threatening to win before making a sloppy bogey on the 71st hole and finishing tied for fourth. His story is interesting, he provides entertaining quotes and is free spirit (TV analysts gushed how Nitties listed his hobbies as "girls, clubs and movies"). It's safe to say that more of this 26-year-old Aussie would be a great thing for the '09 season.
Meanwhile, Webb Simpson didn't dent the leaderboard at the FBR, but still had a huge debut month. The 23-year-old started his season with a 66 in the first round of the Sony Open and never looked back, finishing the event T9 and continuing on a run of 11-straight rounds under par. While making the cut in all three of his events and tossing in two top-10 finishes, Simpson left no doubt that he's a serious threat to win on tour.
As for Piercy, our Rookie of the Month, the memory of that cactus may make him laugh (a little), but the experience of leading late in a tournament has him thinking big for the rest of the season.
"Your goal is to win every week, but in your mind, coming close makes it seem more attainable," he says. "It's like if you haven't done it, you're not sure you can do it. But once you get close, you get the confidence to do it."