HJG: So, back in 2009 I wrote a blog post about golf dreamers and you were one of them! You had created a web site, www.lifeintherough.com to chronicle your journey. Could you share a little of your golf story that got you to the point of wanting to take golf more seriously?
Mike: I took up the game when I was about 18 and working at a golf course in the summers during college. Having free access I got to play a lot. After I graduated and started my career as a software engineer the passion remained. Not only did I love the game with all its history and traditions, I loved the challenge. Somewhere along the line, I realized that at some point in my playing life, I had hit virtually every shot in the book. I could drive the ball far, putted well, and loved to read and learn about every aspect of the game. Not only that, but I loved to practice. It was the recipe for becoming seriously invested in the game.
Mike: I never really had any intention of becoming a touring pro. I felt that I was just too old to get there and working a full time career, it was impossible to put in the amount of time that would have been required. Plus, I just wasn't that good at the time. If I had been right on the cusp, I would have given up my career to focus on golf, but I wasn't even in the ballpark. Teaching, on the other hand, was something that interested me. I've always had a bit of a teacher streak in my personality and helping people get the same kind of joy from the game that I did was very appealing to me. I felt like I could learn everything there is to know about golf (not really, but enough of it) to improve my own game and to embark on being a teacher.
HJG: What were your inspirations and motivations to start on this golf dream?
Mike: A friend/co-worker and I had a conversation about goals and what our own goals are and how we could achieve them. He basically pointed out to me that it was time for me to just go for it and if I didn't, I'd regret it later in life. At the time (2007) blogging was taking off and he also encouraged me to do a blog that chronicled the journey, as a way to have some accountability. He felt, and I agreed, and still do, that the way to succeed with goals is to have some kind of accountability. In my case, it was ten or a hundred or a thousand readers watching everything I was doing. That's how Life in the Rough was born.
HJG: When I found my old post and then went to look for you, your web site was down. Could you catch us up on where you are now and what happened with your golf dream?
Mike: Looking back, I'm not sure where it all unraveled, but there were a few contributing factors. Life in the Rough had become a thing unto itself, instead of just a tool to achieve my golf goals. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. I loved the writing, I loved talking about golf, I loved the people I met through it. But it started to take up a lot of time. I think subconsciously, I felt like it was time that should have been spent working on my game. I started to lose passion for it. My last post was in 2011 and I kept it alive until some point in 2015. Finally, I had to let it go. It was just time. It was very, very hard to do, though.
Around the same time (2011), I started to have serious troubles in my game. I was suffering from a two-way miss and I started to have a real confidence problem on the course. It got to the point where playing golf actually caused me anxiety, if you can believe it. I was practicing a lot and convinced myself that I was working on fixing my swing, but what I was really doing was hiding from playing.
Also at that time, I had moved from the northeast to Texas. There were a few reasons behind that, but one was definitely that it would enhance the amount of time I could work on my game each year. I'm still there and I absolutely love it, but at first it was very stressful and I was out of my element.
These things combined led me to basically have a golf "breakdown" where the game just wasn't fun anymore. I hung up my clubs for the better part of a year and posted my last thing to Life in the Rough. After a long while, I sort of just gave myself permission to be free from pressure and expectations and that allowed me to get back on the horse.
I'm continuing to work on my game, and my goal this year is only to play more than I have in the last few years. That goal of being a teacher is on hold, but it will never be abandoned completely. Maybe it's something I will pursue some day in retirement. Until then, I'll keep improving and learning and most importantly, enjoying the game.
HJG: Are you still golfing?
Mike: Absolutely! After all the trials and tribulations, it's fun again, and I intend to keep it that way.
HJG: If yes, what's in your bag?
I'm still playing the same Mizuno MP-68 irons that I was using during the Life in the Rough days. It's probably time to retire those because the grooves are severely worn from all the practice I did. I have a couple Titleist Vokey wedges, 48 and 54 degrees. I have an Adams Idea 2-hybrid, and a Nike 3-wood. And last year, I added a Ping G30 driver. That's actually the first Ping club I've ever owned. I absolutely love it. I just had to check because that's only 13 clubs and apparently I threw in an old Cleveland 60-degree wedge at some point.
I think it's time to pay a visit to TGW and get my bag modernized! What better way to get some of the fire back?
HJG: Do you follow the PGA Tour? Who are your favorite players & why?
Mike: I do. Living an hour from Dallas, I have to say that Jordan Spieth is one of my top favorites right now. Not only is he an amazing player, but he seems like a really good guy.
I'm still holding out hope that Tiger Woods will have a resurgence before it's too late, but I'm not super confident about that. Those of us who witnessed his career saw something special that I'm not sure will ever happen again. Unfortunately, it seems that he had more going on behind the scenes in the way of physical deterioration, and his loss of edge when his double life was exposed to the world. I'm not sure he'll ever regain the same desire to be great again. I can identify with that, having been there, though at a different level and for different reasons.
I've always been a Mickelson guy and it was great to see him almost pull it out at Pebble Beach last week. I also like Dustin Johnson and I think this might be his year for a major, if he stays on track.
HJG: What else should we know about Mike Gray?
Mike: This isn't about me so much, but is the main lesson I've learned through my golf journey. Always set goals, work hard, and try your best to achieve them. But if it stops being fun, pause and re-evaluate, or you're likely to lose sight of why you set the goals in the first place. In my case, I couldn't just say, "ok, I failed" and leave the game behind completely. Golf is the game of a lifetime and I intend to enjoy it until my time is up. I had to step away for a while to reset my mind and understand that. This caused me great turmoil for a while, but I am finally at peace with it.
I can relate to a lot of what Mike went through over the past several years and I bet many others can, too. First, I love that he's a Phil fan! And the dreaded "golf slump"...I can relate to that, too....and golf not being fun? Check. I still remember when I came out of a slump several years ago and it was all about attitude, I said to myself (and my golf pals), I just want to have fun! And slowly but surely my game got better and my gratefulness soared.
It also easy to relate to the pressures of having a web site - it feels like as soon as you post content it's old - how do you keep up? But I remember reading his site and I appreciated his efforts.
Thanks again, Mike, for being willing to share and update us on your story - I hope we can keep in touch!