June 11, 2014
DENTON - It was a humid afternoon in 2004 on the PGA Village North Course. The North Texas men's golf team had opened play in the 2005 SBC Championship, and a young freshman named Anthony Broussard had just started his round.
Broussard played with a chip on his shoulder. A big one. Bigger than the alligator that had been sunbathing all morning on the 16th green.
Broussard, who had notched seven top-25 finishes before the championship-including a victory at Rice was left off the all-conference team and was on a mission to prove everyone wrong. I was anxious to see this talented freshman play for the first time. Five-holes into the round, I saw what the buzz was all about. But I also saw a flaw.
On a par-5, after finding the intermediate cut of rough with his drive, Broussard was left with a decision. His head coach, Jim Bob Jackson, had driven up and told him to punch it out and play it safe. Jackson then drove off to catch up with some other players. I selfishly wanted to see if Broussard could make the green in two, but understood what Jackson had told him.
Instead of laying up, Broussard, like most indestructible 19-year olds, went for the green in two. His second shot instead found the water and his golf bag took nearly as hard a hit as the ball did.
The zen of golf, the mental game, was the biggest flaw for Broussard. Ten years later, the wild-eyed, brash, borderline-cocky Broussard, now 28, is playing in the U.S. Open Championship after conquering the game's hardest part. He's won the mental war.
The journey from talented freshman to worry free maturity was long and hard, but one that Broussard looks at now and knows he had to make.
"It was a concern," Broussard said. "Mentally, I needed to learn how to react to good shots and bad shots. It was almost an ego thing, but I started to work with a sports psychologist and things started to improve, and I realized what I was my reactions needed to be."
Broussard finished at North Texas in 2008 and began his professional career immediately. It was a struggle. He went to the PGA Tour Q-School but couldn't break through. He played on the lower level golf tours, but found little success.
Then, in 2011, Broussard switched coaches to Chuck Cook, who also happens to coach reigning PGA Champion Jason Dufner. Things started clicking immediately.
"Getting a coach to help me improve my game, physically and mentally, was very important," he said. "The last year and half I've been really focused and been mentally and physically prepared. I'm seeing the results pay off and I have a confident mindset."
In 2012, Broussard won his first event as a professional on the Hooters Tour. In 2013, his game kept improving, all the way to the point of missing the final stage of Q-School in December by just one stroke.
In 2014, Broussard has been playing on the Adams Tour and ranks sixth on the money list with over $21,000. He has four top-10 finishes in six events and his worst finish has been a tie for 18th place. With the success starting to mount, his quest to play in the U.S. Open took him to the sectional qualifying in Houston.
He battled through grueling conditions at Lakeside Country Club and needed two birdies on the final two holes to get into a playoff with William Kropp. On the second playoff hole, Broussard hit his second shot on the par-4 17th hole to three feet from the hole. After Kropp missed his birdie putt, Broussard calmly sank the three-footer for birdie and a ticket to Pinehurst No. 2.
But the Open championship wasn't the first thing he thought of.
"Probably that I didn't have to play another hole," Broussard said. "It was really tough out there but I was blessed to be able to play some great golf, and this year it's all come together. I've been playing great and I'm able to take advantage of that."
Now it's a trip of a lifetime. Broussard will tee off at Pinehurst No. 2 at 7:57 a.m. central time on Thursday from the 10th hole, and he will be in the final group to tee off from the first hole on Friday at 2:42 p.m.
He knows that great week of golf could change his life, but he's already changed himself.
"I'm not worried about what happens this week because I'm okay with the position I'm in," he said. "Whether I'm first or 40th, all I'm trying to do is play one shot at a time and have positive reactions."
On Tuesday Broussard played nine holes with Dufner, Wednesday he played with PGA pro Jason Day. By the time Thursday rolls around, Broussard will have seen the course repeatedly, but not when it counts for the first time.
"I will say a little prayer, thank God for getting me through all the tough times, take deep breath and love the challenge of each shot and each situation."
After that first tee shot, Broussard will walk the course and go toe-to-toe with the world's best golfers in a spotlight that he's never been in before, but don't expect that to bother him.
"My support system has been incredible, from everyone that's been with me at North Texas to everyone who's helped me in the DFW area it's been amazing," Broussard said. "If I can inspire a little kid to want to grow up and play the game of golf the right way and be a positive role model, then that's all I can ask for. My only goal this week is to play the game in the present, play the tournament with no fear or anxiety and rise up to the challenge."