Love, perspective fuel Taylor's improbable comeback
February 14, 2016
By Helen Ross , PGATOUR.COM
- Vaughn Taylor celebrated his AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am win with his wife and son. (Laberge/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Eleven years ago, Vaughn Taylor won his second PGA TOUR event. Like the first one, it came opposite a World Golf Championships, so he knew he hadn’t exactly beaten the biggest names in the game.
In the ensuing years, he experienced both the highs -- a Ryder Cup spot -- and the lows -- losing his TOUR card -- of being a golf pro. But then his confidence deserted him. So did his game. Off the course, he narrowly avoided a tragic accident. Still, the positives outweighed the negatives – he met his wife Leot and they had a son Locklyn.
A week ago, playing in his second straight Web.com Tour event in Bogota, Colombia, Taylor was stricken by a stomach virus so severe he needed nourishment from an IV and ended up withdrawing after just a handful of holes.
Last weekend, he flew to California on Saturday rather than return home to Georgia because the flight was cheaper. He had taken his small golf bag with him to avoid those pesky baggage fees that kick in after you exceed the 50-pound limit, too. As first alternate for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his spot was not even guaranteed until Carl Pettersson withdrew.
So naturally, by the end of the weekend, there was Vaughn Taylor rallying from a six-stroke deficit to defeat Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson on one of golf’s most iconic courses.
Eleven years after that last victory, Taylor has job security again, fully exempt through the 2017-18 season and ranked 15th on the FedExCup. He’s now headed for Los Angeles and this week's Northern Trust Open -- a tournament for which he had originally planned to Monday qualify.
And come April, the man who grew up and still lives in the Augusta, Ga., area will be playing in his Super Bowl the rest of us called the Masters for the first time since 2008.
"I just kept working, kept grinding." Taylor said almost shyly. "And I can't believe it actually happened today."
Taylor closed with a 6-under 66, surging into the lead with a string of four consecutive birdies and a back-nine 31. He then survived an anxious 20 minutes waiting to see whether Mickelson could post the tying birdie on the iconic 18th hole.
When Mickelson missed his 5-footer, Taylor claimed the $1.26 million paycheck. No longer will he have to worry about baggage fees or Monday qualifiers.
But it's not about the money. It never has been. Taylor just wanted to get back to the highest level of the game.
"You get out here, and you have success, and you expect to have it all the time," Taylor said. "And that's not really the way it works.
"The best players in the game don't play good every week and in my case, I didn't play well for quite a few years. And looking back on it, I wish I could have done it a little differently and appreciated it a little bit more and enjoyed the ride. ... I'll enjoy this, though."
Making sure that Taylor does will be the woman he calls his "rock," Leot, the petite blonde uber-positive mother of their rambunctious 2-year-old Locklyn, who amused himself by playing on the stage, clutching a stuffed Mickey Mouse, while his dad was interviewed Sunday after the win.
"She's the one that keeps me going, and we're lucky enough to have that little guy with us, too," Taylor said. "It's all for them. They deserve it just as much as I do. Ever since I met her I knew there was something special about her, and she always has my back."
And now what Leot called a "lull" was finally over.
"To say you've been on a Ryder Cup team, I think that's the epitome of golf, and we're just really appreciative," Leot said. "You need the lows to appreciate the highs in anything you do. This is a business. I don't know any business that's had 10 amazing years. ...
"So it's a tough game. ... Anyone, any day that enters this field can win and I really say that genuinely because I have a lot of friends out here. I have a lot of friends -- husbands, and wives. These guys are good."
Adding to the perspective? What Taylor calls a "life-changing moment" two years ago when he was fishing in the Savannah River near their home, the same water where he once caught a record 56-pound striper, and the boat capsized.
Taylor was alone, caught in the fast-moving current. He wasn't wearing a life jacket, one of several mistakes he made that day. The water temperature was in the low 50s even though it was a hot summer day.
"You think it's easy to swim or that, but it really changes when the water's up to your nose and you don't know what's happening," Taylor said. "It was pretty scary. I really thought for a minute that this could be it. Once the panic kind of wore off and I realized, OK, let's get your self together, then I kind of calmed down and I knew I was going to be okay."
Taylor's tackle box came floating toward him. He grabbed it to see if he could stop swimming and rest. Finally he was able to catch his breath and assess his situation. A park ranger was able to guide Taylor to shore.
He used the ranger's cell phone to call Leot, who did not know what had happened. She didn't recognize the number, but she answered anyway. Her husband was in hysterics.
"I'm just thankful he's calling me," Leot recalled. "Tomorrow's a blessing. Life's too short. We're here on Valentine's Day. You appreciate the people you love. You appreciate God's gifts. Appreciate that we're here in this moment because there's no guarantees for anyone. I don't care who you are."
Taylor, who still loves to fish, knows he made mistakes that day. But he learned from what happened, and he knows now what is really important in his life.
"It really made me appreciate what I have in family and my wife and my son," Taylor said. "And I realized that life wasn't really about me, it's about them. They need me."
And they support him, too, just as they did on this Valentine’s Day at Pebble Beach.
Vaughn Taylor interview after winning AT&T Pebble Beach