PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- A lone bogey could have kept Phil Blackmar out of the field for the 2008 Walmart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
|Inside the Numbers|
|Blackmar in 2008|
He had to qualify on Tuesday at San Juan Oaks Golf Club in Hollister, Calif., for the event. There were 13 spots for 47 players and Blackmar ended up in an eight-man tie for eighth. Two of those men wouldn't make it.
Blackmar grabbed the last spot in a playoff and earned his first trip into this Champions Tour event. After a first-round 67 at Del Monte and a second-round 68 at Pebble Beach on Saturday, Blackmar was at the top of the leaderboard.
He hit 78 percent of greens in regulation on Friday and 94 percent on Saturday. With those stats, it didn't matter that he only made one putt over 4 feet in the first round and didn't recall making any over 5 feet in the second round.
"Yesterday I hit about as good as I could hit it. I chipped in once and had a 6-footer. That was the longest putt made all day," Blackmar said. "(Today) was pretty nice but didn't feel quite as good as it did yesterday. Just kept it in play and tried not to make any mistakes."
Blackmar, his junior partner Brett Silvernail and the two amateurs in his group began on the 10th tee at Pebble Beach. It's a long shuttle ride from the driving range to the lodge, where it takes another long shuttle ride to make it to the 10th tee. By the time Blackmar reached the 10th in a soupy, misty fog, he needed to warm up again.
"You have to allow so much time to get to the tee you are kind of cold and stiff by the time you get there. That's a tough tee shot," Blackmar said. "I managed to get that one in play, get it on the green and get a par under my belt."
With the low-hanging fog and cool temperatures, the ball wasn't carrying far. In his first nine holes -- remember, that's the back nine -- Blackmar had a hard time stuffing his irons close to the pin.
"I kept coming up short. (On No. 13), I came up short there," Blackmar said. "I hit a nice 9-iron from 136 yards that spun back and had about a 40-footer. I three-putted, missed about a 4-footer for my second putt."
He immediately got one back by sinking a 4-foot putter for birdie on the 14th hole, then rattled off five straight pars.
"There's a little breeze out of the north so the front nine was playing shorter than the back. More birdie opportunities on the front," he said.
He took full advantage of the conditions, making four birdies on the front nine to post the clubhouse lead.
Blackmar is in the midst of his rookie season the Champions Tour after turning 50 in September 2007. He was only eligible for two tournaments that year and had to wait until the Turtle Bay Championship in late January to really start his second-chance career on the 50-and-over circuit.
He admits it's taken a while to remember how to compete. Blackmar stopped playing the PGA TOUR full-time in 2000, so it had been seven years since he really focused on own his game. He stayed active in golf through TV gigs for CBS golf broadcasts and by teaching with Jim Flick, but he didn't practice much and the Corpus Christi, Texas, resident only dusted off the competition clubs for the Shell Houston Open once a year.
However, he did pick up a few tips from watching Tiger Woods et al. for the broadcasts.
"You listen to guys comments Monday after they win, invariably 90 percent of the time they use the word patience somewhere in the interview. ... They still hit bad shots, they still miss putts. Nobody's perfect. But their attitude is such that they remain patient," he said. "I think Tiger embodies that perhaps the best when he says, 'All I wanted to do is keep giving myself chances'.
"And I try to tell myself that out there. I struggle with it at times because I'm not the most patient person around."
But he's had to be incredible patient this season. Even he didn't expect it to take him almost a year to find his game. Blackmar's two best Champions Tour finishes finally came in July in a tie for 10th at the Dick's Sporting Goods Open and a tie for eighth at the Senior British Open.
"My long game comes and goes. I'm 6-foot-7, so I'm not going to be a premier ball-striker. I have my days where I'll strike it well and I'll have my days when I don't," Blackmar, a three-time PGA TOUR winner, said. "Mentally, that was always one of my strengths when I was playing well, was that I could finish it off. I could elevate my game a lot of times to a level better than I was.
"I haven't been able to do that this year. It's been getting better. I've had a lot of chances to have good tournaments. I just have made dumb mistakes, little things happen, just not in the right mental frame."
He certainly didn't look like the Blackmar of old to his family and friends. Then something changed. When he took his "entourage" across the pond for the Senior British Open at Royal Troon -- his whole family stayed in a castle -- Blackmar shot 68 on the final day and vaulted into the top 10.
"(My wife's) comment after that last round was, 'That was the first time I've seen you since you came back that you look like you used to look.' I feel like I'm starting to get there mentally," he said.
So much for carrying any momentum back to the United States, though. He wasn't eligible for the U.S. Senior Open the following week nor the JELD-WEN Tradition two weeks later. So the Blackmars stayed in Europe and took a whirlwind tour of Italy and Switzerland.
Blackmar didn't pick up a club during that trip. In fact, he didn't think he'd have room for the clubs in rental cars and on trains, so he shipped them home.
"My golf bag was pretty old. So I threw my bag away and I mailed them home," he said.
He wasn't going to play in Seattle for the Boeing Classic -- Blackmar hadn't been home in two months at that point -- but got in as an alternate and shot 66 on Saturday.
"I have peaks of playing really well here and there," he said.
Speaking of peaks, Blackmar is the tallest player ever to be a full-time PGA TOUR member and winner. He towers over the field that he now leads and almost used his height to his advantage.
"When I was doing golf schools with Jim Flick, we had a really tall crew. We thought about maybe putting on schools for the tall players. We thought about targeting the NBA, NFL, that sort of thing first," Blackmar said. "We had four of us that were all 6-foot-4 or above. That would have been really cool, we just never really gotten around to it."
Now, he's looking to become the tallest player to win on the Champions Tour. If he does that, his head might literally and metaphorically be above all the clouds and fog Pebble Beach sends his way on Sunday.