The 22-year old San Diego native and former USC star was the 2010 Nationwide Tour player of the year and leading money winner with $452,951, earning his first professional win at the Mexico Open. Heading into his rookie season on the big tour he is aiming high, but he plans to keep up with some of his favorite hobbies — fishing, shooting hoops and playing guitar.
You had a phenomenal 2010. You had nine top 10s and a win. Obviously, after losing a playoff at the regular Tour’s Frys.Com Open in ’09, you knew you had a PGA Tour-caliber game. But do you think that year on the Nationwide Tour has made you a better player?
It was nice to have another year to develop my golf game. I started working with Sean Foley in December 2009, and I had a whole year to work on some swing changes at a competitive level. So I feel like I’ve definitely matured a lot over the last year.
How are you playing?
I’m practicing now after not playing much over the last couple of months to get back to a 100 percent for the start of the season. Yet I still feel like I’ve kept the level of play that I had at the end of last year.
What have you been doing since the end of the Nationwide Tour season?
I’ve been doing a lot of fishing, offshore mostly. Before we go out to fish we have to catch live bait. It’s nothing too fancy.
Do you catch and release?
It depends how hungry I am.
Where do you fish?
I live in Jupiter, Florida, and it has some of the best fishing in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I moved down there.
What do you do with your spare time on the road?
I travel with a guitar, a fishing pole, a baseball glove, a football and a basketball. I love doing a lot of other things outside of golf. I might have too many hobbies. Maybe I should stick with one or two.
How are your guitar chops?
I’ve been playing acoustic guitar for a few years. It can be extremely challenging and frustrating. It’s so difficult that I could probably practice eight hours a day and still not get very good.
All guitar hobbyists have a song or two that they love to play. What’s yours?
“Over the Hill and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin.
Do you listen to music on your iPod while you practice?
When I’m chipping I’ll put one of my headphones in one ear. But I’ll keep one ear free because I still like to hear the club making contact with the ball. The music keeps me going a little longer than I would if I didn’t have it. I’m playing anything from rap to country to classic rock.
At 6’4' with a quarterback’s frame, I’m surprised a few coaches didn’t woo you to play football or basketball.
Looking back on it, if I had to do it all over again, I might have tried my luck at being a quarterback.
You’re playing a pickup game of basketball and you can pick any four players to play with. Who would they be?
Dwyane Wade, Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash, and Kevin Durant.
What are your goals for the season?
I would like to win a tournament and finish in the top 30 in the FedEx points at the end of the year and get into the Tour Championship. If I can do one of those things, then I’ll view the year as a success.
There are a lot of good young players — Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Anthony Kim — who will be forces to be reckoned with on Tour for the foreseeable future. How do you get into that elite company?
I have never considered myself the best ball-striker in the world, but I have a decent short game. No one hits it great day-in and day-out, so you have to fall back on your short game. All the players that stay in contention week-in and week-out know how to get it in the hole when they aren’t hitting it all that well.
How many shots in a given round do you hit exactly the way you visualized?
One shot at best. It hardly ever goes the way you draw it up in your mind because there are so many variables to contend with, from how the wind impacts the ball to how the ball lands and spins once it hits the green. There are just too many things that can go wrong. I have only hit a few shots in my entire life that have gone exactly as I planned.
One of those perfect shots must have been on the first playoff hole in last year’s Mexican Open with B.J. Staten.
It was a reachable par 5 and I had 235 yards for my second shot. There was a lot of elevation in Mexico, so I hit a six-iron into a landing area on the green that was only about 64 square feet. The ball landed right on that spot and rolled to three feet from the hole. It was by far the best shot of my life.
What are some of the adjustments that you plan on making in the transition to the regular Tour?
I’m trying not to get too caught up in the whole PGA Tour scene. I’ve talked to a lot of guys on Tour, and it’s really easy to fall into a routine of playing too much golf on the practice round days, then you’re exhausted once the tournament starts on Thursday.
What guys do you want to play with this year?
Obviously I want to play with Tiger. I was 12 years old in 2000 when he was winning everything. We both work with Sean Foley, so I’m hoping we can play in some practice rounds together. I played a little bit with Phil Mickelson growing up in San Diego. We were both members at the Rancho Santa Fe (Ca.) Golf Club.
How many tournaments will you get into on the West Coast swing?
I’ll get into everything except the WGC events. I essentially have the same status as the player who finished 125th on the money list last year. So I don’t have to worry about the shuffle that happens after week 7 at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico. Fortunately I can pick and choose my events a little bit. Getting an invite to the Players was one of the big perks from winning the Nationwide money list.
Do you think you have the game to be No. 1 in the world?
I think it’s a goal of mine down the line. Obviously it’s not a realistic objective for me right now. This year I’m just trying to finish in the top 30 on the FedEx list. I know getting to the top is a long process.