It was over 100 degrees and sticky as I stepped on the first tee in St. Simons, Georgia. At the age of 13, I was three strokes off the lead with 18 holes to play in the Atlanta Junior Golf Association Grand Championship. During that season, I had been second in points. I had been hoping to beat the leader for the first time that season and steal first place from him.
I played a great round, but it wasn’t enough. I finished second in the tournament and in the overall player standings. At 13, I was the second best golfer for my age in the state.
Years of practice and dedication had allowed me to win or place near the top of every tournament I’d ever entered. Golf was my life. I spent every daylight hour when I wasn’t in school practicing at the golf course. I was tiny for my age and played with friends much older and stronger than I. This didn’t hold me back, as my short game gave me an advantage.
As I grew older, the competition became much stronger and my game stalled. Instead of practicing, I became more interested in talking with friends at the course and in the pro shop. I was banking on past results to keep me relevant. If only I’d had the awareness to focus on what was important to get into college and eventually turn professional.
My high school career was dismal at best. I had so much talent coming out of middle school, but lost my focus and edge in my golf game. Friends and social commitments became more important than trophies. I also started experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. I would occasionally use on weekends, but still cared enough about golf and school to keep it at bay during the week.
During my junior year, our golf team won the state championship. After I four-putted the final green, we had a one-shot victory. It was the only time all season that the team used my score to win. I will forever be proud of this win, but I knew I hadn’t given it my all.
After winning State, my parents moved our family to Florida. Since it was my senior year, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
The only good thing about the move was that golf season began in the fall instead of spring. As I once again started taking golf seriously, my game improved. I had one year to impress college coaches and gain that scholarship.
After many trips back to Georgia to visit my girlfriend, I convinced my parents to let me move back to defend our state championship. Family friends opened their home to me. A few days prior to my arrival, my girlfriend ended our relationship. I was heartbroken. She had been one of the major reasons I’d moved back to Georgia. I’d never before felt the emotions of loss and heartache.
In Georgia, I started hanging out with a new group of friends who smoked pot. I began to join them after golf practice. Being stoned allowed me to escape my feelings of loss after the breakup. It also allowed me to feel different for the first time in my life, and yet fit in with kids my age.
After a few months of smoking everyday and even showing up to tournaments buzzed, my sponsor family found my pot. They kicked me out of their house and sent me back to Florida. Goodbye to my chance to defend our state championship.
I was now addicted and smoking pot every day; using made my life in Florida bearable. Despite this, I managed to obtain a golf scholarship to a Division II school in Colorado. As I was too consumed with getting stoned, even the scholarship didn’t inspire me to practice. Toward the end of the summer, the coach called and told me I would need a physical the week of my arrival. I freaked out. There was no way I could pass a drug test, so I quit smoking that night.
After not smoking pot for a week, I moved to Colorado. During the physical, my blood pressure was through the roof. I finally calmed down when someone told me they weren’t testing for drugs; the urine test was testing for proper hydration. My blood pressure miraculously went down to normal levels.
My game was in shambles, but I was practicing for the first time in months. Tryouts were only a few days away. Since I had received a scholarship, I had assumed I had a guaranteed spot on the team. This was not the case.
One of the first people I met at the golf course was Daniel, an incoming freshman who had a story similar to mine. He had golf talent, but was more interested in hanging out and smoking pot. We became best friends.
Without anyone looking over my shoulder, I began smoking pot whenever I wanted. I would smoke before and between classes. As soon as golf practice was over, I’d be stoned until my eyes closed at night. My life quickly turned into a smoke session with a few golf shots in between. I barely made the team and, not surprisingly, wasn’t taken to any of the tournaments.
One Friday night, Daniel was over at my apartment, smoking like we did every night. He asked me if I’d ever tried ecstasy. I never had; and because I wasn’t getting the same effect from pot, I naively agreed to try it.
Two months later, my life had completely fallen apart. Every dollar I had saved was gone. I hadn’t been to class since golf season ended. I was skin and bones, and was only concerned with my next roll of ecstasy or marijuana joint. I had become a full-blown addict.
One night while under the influence of ecstasy, Daniel and I had a huge fight. He called my parents; my mother was on the next flight to Colorado. It saved my life.
Unfortunately, I continued my addiction for the next two years before spending my 20th birthday in jail. The following week, I survived a near-death beating with a brick to my head and a broken wrist. These two experiences forced me into sobriety.
Because of the brain damage my drug usage had caused, I was in and out of psych wards. I was institutionalized under the Baker Act, deemed a danger to myself and others.
Since April 22, 2010, I have been clean and sober, and now share my story at schools and with other audiences throughout the world. I have become a sober coach, helping others overcome their demons.
I am extremely grateful for everything my addiction has taught me about life, but will forever wonder what could have happened had I stayed away from drugs and continued my passion for playing professional golf.