BROOKLINE, Mass. — Travis Vick certainly didn’t look his best in his US Open debut. But what he had: plenty of sound advice from a World Series champion, which helped him find a way to hit the par-70 in Thursday’s first round at the Country Club.
Before Vick stood out at the University of Texas, he played three sports at First Baptist School in Houston, also playing football and baseball. His coaches on the diamond were former MLB greats Lance Berkman and Andy Pettitte, the latter of whom became a close mentor to the aspiring golfer.
“Andy was very helpful as a guy who’s been there and done that,” Vick said. “He helps with the mentality – he knows a lot about golf, but it’s more of a big league level, like, ‘This is what I did. This is what I tried. That’s what I’ve been through From what he’s done in the game of baseball, just the fact that he thought to help me is such an honor.
Vick started the week as one of only two players who could claim a national championship in the past month. Rory McIlroy won the RBC Canadian Open last week, and earlier this month Vick earned the deciding point for the Longhorns in their NCAA Finals win over Arizona State.
Even McIlroy, however, didn’t have five commissioner’s 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 catch Vick’s first professional round. He couldn’t stay long, leaving after 15 holes to catch an afternoon flight, but he would be sure to be there for Travis – even if it meant traveling on his 50th birthday, which was Wednesday.
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“Just a wonderful family, great Christians, same values as my wife and I,” Pettitte said of the Vicks. “And Travis, he loves to compete, in all sports, and was very coachable.”
Pettitte remembers the emotions of his first tenure in the big leagues. He came in 1995 against the Oakland Athletics, which featured a roster with Mark McGwire, Ruben Sierra and Rickey Henderson.
“It was a pretty daunting 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?
“He must have had butterflies,” Pettitte said. “His stomach must have been in knots. Mine did every start I did. But it’s about controlling your emotions, relaxing your body and relaxing your muscles in pressure situations and being able to make the game here feel like it’s on the beach – or if someone throws, you give the game away. feel like you’re on the mound like you’re in the bullpen. You’re trying to trick your mind.
Vick learned well. Although he definitely felt the heat with an NCAA title on the line at Grayhawk, he was able to shake off the jitters on the first tee on Thursday and stay calm throughout the inning. He holed 20 feet for a birdie on the par-4 third hole to go into the red early, and he made no mistakes on the front nine, making several important saves to keep his card clean.
Then came adversity. After throwing a drive just off the creek at the par-4 10th and dropping within 170 yards, Vick allowed himself a long bird’s eye look and ended up with three putts for his first bogey of the day. Three holes later, he had another short iron into the green at the par-4 13th and made another bogey, this time from the green bunker.
“You can’t do that stuff if you want to have a chance at the US Open,” Vick said.
Oil leak, Vick knew what he had to do. When Pettitte pitched in the major leagues, he had his best performances about 10% of the time, Vick recalled, but he managed to win 256 games in 18 years.
Vick hit his first-round target score with the parts of his game that were pulling: his driver and his short game, the latter of which he’s become a strength of through recent work with swing instructor Adam Porzak, who is on Vick’s bag this week.
Vick’s crucial ups and downs included a save by a short divot from the green at No. 9 and a sandy par at the par-3 16th, and he saved his best drive for last, hammering a 326-yard fastball at the par-4 18th to set up a 58 degree corner 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 work to do. Luckily 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 needed to exploit this strategy, he said he would choose a George Strait song.
Note this. Take a little note.
Vick is pretty good at it, and it keeps paying off. Evenly matched, Vick is ahead in the proverbial US Open tally.