by Kent Gilchrist
Sitting in your easy-chair watching a PGA TOUR event on your wide-screen TV might sound like a simple, sedentary thing to do on a Sunday morning.
It’s more like an endless rollercoaster ride if you are the father of the player leading the tournament, as Jay Taylor acknowledges.
His son Nick is the winner of the AT&T Pro-Am at famous Pebble Beach on the gorgeous California coastline of the Monterey Peninsula. Even though Nick Taylor led the tournament wire-to-wire – at three different courses – the crowd was clearly cheering for Phil Mickelson, a five-time winner of the tournament.
How difficult it might be to watch your son’s five-shot lead get whittled down to two shots on the back nine after back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes and then a shocking double-bogey on the par-5 14th is more like reliving a nightmare that scared you half to death as a child.
The only person who seemed to remain steady and steadfast while standing on the 15th tee facing Phil, hard-charging Kevin Streelman and a 50-60 mph Pacific Ocean gale was the eventual champion, 32-year-old Nick.
He hadn’t won since the fall of 2015 when he was paired with David Toms, a U.S. Open winner, in the final round of the Sanderson Farms and came from four shots off the pace to win.
But all he did on the back nine on Sunday at the AT&T was chip in for birdie on the 15th and then hit a gorgeous tee shot into the wind on the par-3 17th and make a six-footer for birdie two, all of which gave him a 4-shot lead and allowed him to stroll down the 18th, soaking in the sunshine and the applause.
Ever the diplomat, Mickelson acknowledged “Nick just played better than me” in the post-round interview. Taylor broke 70 at Monterey Peninsula, Pebble and Spyglass Hill and led the tournament all three rounds. That set up his 2-under 70 finish Sunday at Pebble Beach.
He had been trending in the right direction in 2019-20 overlapping season with seven made cuts in 10 events. Ironically, one of the three he missed was the Sanderson Farms in November.
With Sunday’s win, he’s made $1,781,422 and qualified for the first time to play in the Masters at Augusta in April, among other nice perks that winners of the former Bing Crosby Pro-Am accrue.
That didn’t stop the worry from invading Jay’s enjoyment of his son’s coming accomplishment. Nick Taylor is a low-key kind of young man which is likely why TSN on Sunday night said “Nick Thomas” had won the tournament. And the Arizona Republic main sports headline Monday said “Phil falters in the wind.” Guess it blew harder for Mickelson than it did for Nick, even though they played together in the final group.
“I was at home with Darlene (Nick’s mother) in our fortress of solitude,” Jay said with a grin. “There was a lot of pacing around. Saturday night was a wee bit restless with a 1-shot lead and thinking about the crowd that would be following Phil and the forecast for wind.
“I have to admit I’m a bit anxious any week Nick competes. I watch via Shot Tracker and, obviously, hope he does well. Anytime he is in contention, that feeling tends to crescendo with every passing round.
“I know Nick will be as prepared as possible, will do his best and will never stop trying. So I can live with whatever happens.”
And a distraction of sorts on Sunday was responding to the flurry of text messages and emails from family and friends in the Fraser Valley and across B.C. and the rest of North America.
“The test will always come in golf,” the elder Taylor philosophized, the day after Nick’s biggest win of his career. “To see some of those incredible players struggling under those conditions probably added to the anxiety. From about the fifth hole on, I barely sat down, pacing about the house between shots.
“Golf’s not like other sports, you play alongside an opponent, but you don’t directly impact his play. You can hit a great drive and wind up in a divot, or hit a wonderful approach shot and watch it bounce off the flag. That’s simply golf. If someone had offered me a 2-stroke lead after 14 the night before, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Part of the game is keeping your head when all about you others aren’t.
“I wasn’t really comfortable until after Nick was on the green on the 18th. When his ball was in the cup, Darlene and I had a long, tearful hug. It’s been a long journey and we’ll see where the drive takes us.”
But all road signs look positive.