Well, Michael and I have returned from the future and are now back on American soil. And let me just say, the future is very bright...I have the sunburned shoulders to prove it. (Yes I wore sunscreen Mom!!!) We are beginning our 4 hour layover in LAX, en-route by plane to Atlanta and then by car to Birmingham, and I figured this would be a good time to write my blog about our trip to Thailand this past week. I will admit, I am a little confused about what time and day it is right now so if the writing is actually better than past blogs, don’t worry it’ll be back to normal next week!
I know most of you are really excited about this week’s blog because I actually have some golf to write about! And boy is it a doozy! But before I get to that, I’ll give everyone a quick recap of the early part of the week to build the anticipation. We left on Friday morning, Dec. 9, to drive to Atlanta and flew 4.5 hours from Atlanta to LAX, had a 3 hour layover in LAX, and then had a 17.5 hour flight from LAX to Bangkok, arriving on Sunday, Dec 11 at 6:30 am local time. We sat in Business class on Thai Airways which boasts seats that turn into beds, personal TVs, nice cushy pillows and blankets, and three full meals. I watched 6 movies and slept for 4 hours, and Michael watched 3 movies and slept for like 11 hours (typical man). Of course, that meant that when we arrived, I had to take naps all afternoon while Michael went to the golf course to practice.
We stayed at the Westin Hotel in Bangkok in a suite, with a huge breakfast buffet, nice gym, and spa. It was awesome. There were even bath salts and free bottled water (which is good since we were told not to drink the water). We had a driver all week (whose name I never could pronounce) and a personal car since Michael was a sponsor invite to the tournament (which is actually an Asian Tour event). We were so excited that our friends Jonathan and Claire Moore were also in Thailand for the tournament, since Jonathan is on the Asian Tour and Claire is his caddie. They showed us how to use the Skytrain, which takes people all around the city, and took us to a night market and a huge mall (Bangkok is full of enormous malls with 6-8 stories of small shops all disorganized into endless mazes of tourist traps.)
Bangkok itself is absolute chaos. It is a city where every square inch of space is taken up by something (high rise, sidewalk booth, taxi stand, stray dog, street market, puddles of unknown fluids) and lane lines and car turn signals are just for decoration. There were not only taxi cabs, but also motorcycle/Vespa taxis where people would just hop on the back with the driver and take off for their destination while applying makeup or talking on their phones. If it were me, I’d be holding on for dear life cause those guys just weave in and out of traffic (which is AWFUL in Bangkok). Apparently all lanes of traffic (even shoulders and the opposite side of the road) are fair game for cars, as long as there is no one in them and you get back to your side of the road when there is an oncoming car. The amazing part is, I didn’t hear one honking horn because that is just the way things are there, and there were no accidents. Michael pointed out that no one in Bangkok talks on the phone, eats, texts, applies makeup or reads their IPADs while driving, so there is one thing we Americans can learn from the Thai.
We did learn some Thai while we were there (hello, good-bye, thank you, quiet, no camera), but unfortunately I can’t write it here since amazingly Apple doesn’t have international characters on their keyboards...I have sent them a memo. We were unable to do too much sight-seeing since Michael had to practice before the tournament and I was too scared (and warned) not to go out by myself at any time of day. But overall, we had a great trip and more importantly learned how to travel halfway around the world and still be able to function when we get there. So without further ado...
This was the inaugural year of the Thailand Golf Championship and we both agreed that the tournament itself was extremely well organized and efficient, much like a PGA event. The golf course Michael played, Amata Springs Country Club, was quite a difficult course by his standards. It demanded solid shots and could easily punish you if you weren’t on your game (evidenced by the wide range of scores).
Michael played his first two rounds with an Australian, David Gleeson who has played on the Asian Tour for the past 14 years, and a local Thai guy named Prayad Marksaeng (don’t ask me to pronounce that). Michael shot 69 (-3) with 8 fairways hit, 14 greens in regulation, and 28 putts on Thursday morning (or I guess Wednesday night/Thursday early morning for you avid fans watching the coverage), and shot 66 (-6) with 11 fairways hit, 13 greens in regulation, and 25 putts on Friday afternoon. For those of you who don’t understand the statistics, don’t worry I don’t understand them either. Basically it means that Michael was struggling with his tee shots, but putting on an absolute clinic in putting and around the green chipping. Those first two days, it seemed everything within 10-12 feet of the hole went in and he had many a long putt to save par. After two days of work, Michael found himself tied for second place with Charl Schwartzel (who won the Masters this year) and 11 shots behind Lee Westwood (who is the #2 player in the world and evidently played a different course for the first two days...but not really)
So on Saturday, Michael played in the final group with Lee Westwood and Charl Schwartzel, the two highest ranked players in the field, and both really nice men according to Michael. It was amazing to watch how he handled himself. I saw no evidence of nerves or fear, just his normal quiet, cool, calm demeanor. Michael shot 69 (-3) on Saturday (beating Lee Westwood’s +1) with 12 fairways hit, 14 greens in regulation, and 28 putts, showing that no matter who his playing partners, Michael was still able to play consistent golf. If Lee and Charl were looking for a crack in the armor, they didn’t find one and of that I am most proud. Michael was able to play well enough to hold off surges from Guido van der Valk from the Netherlands and Simon Dyson of England to stay in the final group on Sunday.
On Sunday before the round we had breakfast at the course with Charl Schwartzel and his caddie. It was really neat to sit with someone so well known and realize that he is just a normal person like us. Michael was so excited to get another chance to play in the final group with two exceptional players. He shot a final round 70 (-2) with 8 fairways hit, 13 greens in regulation and 28 putts (the most notable on the island green on 17, with 18 feet for par to maintain his position on the leaderboard). He finished 3rd in his first professional tournament in Asia in a field packed with major champions, top world players and guys just like Michael just trying to get their names out there. I think he accomplished that this week.
To put the 3rd place finish into perspective, Michael had almost no preparation for this tournament. Since the PGA season ended 7 weeks ago, our time has consisted of completing our move and unpacking, traveling to Arizona for Thanksgiving, and setting up our new apartment. To top it off, Michael was sick during the 2 weeks before the tournament so he basically went into the week blind without a full week of practice. He had to put his full confidence and trust in God all week.
It is such a pleasure to watch him grow and learn every week and I can honestly say that no matter the outcome, I have seen Michael learn something new about his game every tournament. This week, Michael learned that he can adapt his game and his mental attitude to an international setting, which will allow him to play well all over the world. He also learned that he can compete against the best players in the world.
We are so excited that God provided us with this unique opportunity. Both Michael and I believe that God was instrumental in this weeks accomplishments, especially with the lack of preparation Michael had beforehand. He wasn’t quoting a memorized bible verse all week like the McGladrey earlier in the year, but Michael says he felt a sense of peace all week. John 14:27 (New Living Translation) says “I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Even when God does not seem to be overtly working in your life, He is still there in some form. God does not work in big miracles or huge displays of power. He often gives comfort and support silently behind the scenes and it just takes a bit of awareness to realize it.
We realize that because of this amazing finish, more doors will open for Michael’s golf career. We hope to use whatever new opportunities God provides as ways to teach more people about Him. I pray that everyone reading this may find peace in the chaos of their own lives, just as Michael and I found peace in the chaos of Bangkok. We love you all, God loves you all, and we hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!