BROOKLINE, Mass. – It’s true that Travis Vick didn’t have his best material for his US Open debut. But what he did have: Lots of wise advice from a World Series champion, helping him find a way to win a par 70 in Thursday’s first round at The Country Club.
Before Vick excelled at the University of Texas, he starred in three sports at First Baptist School in Houston, and also played football and baseball. His coaches on the diamond were former MLB greats Lance Berkman and Andy Pettitte, the latter of whom has become a close mentor to the budding golfer.
“Andy has been very helpful as a person who has been there and done that,” Vick said. “He helps with the mindset: he knows a lot about golf, but he’s more from a major league level, like, ‘This is what I’ve done. This is what I have tried. This is what I have experienced. Based on what he’s done in the game of baseball, just thinking about helping me is such an honor.”
Vick started the week as one of only two players who could claim a national championship in the last month. Rory McIlroy won last week’s RBC Canadian Open, and earlier this month, Vick won the deciding point for the Longhorns in their NCAA final victory over Arizona State.
Even McIlroy, however, did not have five commissioner trophies in his gallery on Thursday.
Pettitte, who won five World Series titles as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, flew to Boston on Wednesday night to watch Vick’s first round pro. He couldn’t stay long, leaving after 15 holes for an afternoon flight, but he wouldn’t miss being there for Travis, even if it meant traveling on his 50th birthday, which was Wednesday.
US Open full course scores
“Just a wonderful family, great Christian people, same values as my wife and I,” Pettitte said of the Vicks. “And Travis, he loves to compete, in all sports, and he was very easy to train.”
Pettitte recalls the emotions of his first major league start. He came in 1995 against the Oakland Athletics, which featured a lineup headlined by Mark McGwire, Ruben Sierra and Rickey Henderson.
“It was a pretty intimidating lineup,” said Pettitte, who went 5 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and one earned run, walking two and striking out three.
As for Travis’ big debut?
“It had to have butterflies,” Pettitte said. “His stomach had to be rolling in knots. Mine made every start I made. But it’s about controlling your emotions and relaxing your body and relaxing your muscles under pressure situations and being able to make the game here feel like shooting range, or if somebody’s shooting, you make being on the mound feel as if you were in the toril. You try to trick your mind.”
Vick has learned well. While he definitely felt the heat with an NCAA title on the line at Grayhawk, he was able to shake off the jitters from the first tee Thursday and keep his cool throughout the round. He made a 20-foot birdie hole on the par-4 third hole to go into the red early, and he didn’t make a mistake on the front nine, making several big par stops to keep his card clean.
Then came adversity. After hitting a drive just short of the creek on the par 4 10 and dropping to less than 170 yards inside, Vick gave himself a long birdie look and wound up making three shots for his first bogey of the day. Three holes later, he put another short iron on the green at the par-4 13th and made another bogey, this time from the greenside bunker.
“You can’t be doing those things if you want to have a shot at the US Open,” Vick said.
With an oil leak, Vick knew what he had to do. When Pettitte was pitching in the big leagues, he had the better of him about 10% of the time, Vick recalls, but he managed to win 256 games in 18 years.
Vick bolstered his target first-round score with the parts of his game that were shooting: his driver and his short game, the latter of which has become a strength thanks to recent work with swing instructor Adam Porzak, who is in Vick’s bag this week.
Vick’s crucial ups and downs included a par save from a short hole off the green at No. 9 and a sandy par on the par 3 16, and he saved his best drive for last, hitting a 326-yard fastball on the par 4. 18 to establish a 58 degree wedge at 6 feet.
Vick rolled in the closing birdie. A good start But this is, after all, the US Open, and Vick knows he still has some work to do. Fortunately for him, he has a championship resource at his disposal.
Another story Pettitte shared with Vick was how he used to sing songs to himself in pressure situations on the mound. If Vick needs to take advantage of that strategy, he said he would pick a George Strait song.
Write this down. Take a little note.
Vick is pretty good at it and it continues to pay off. At the same time, Vick is leading the proverbial US Open count.