"The Best Golf Experience Of My Life"

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"The Best Golf Experience Of My Life"

June 15, 2012

Behind the scenes of a dream week with U.S. Open qualifer Mark McCormick

What's better than having a locker with your own U.S. Open nameplate? Seeing that Phil Mickelson, 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, and 2011 champ Rory McIlroy have lockers next to you.

Mark described his week at Olympic as the best golf experience of his life, especially the stretches when he played well, made some birdies and got some roars from the galleries. "The hair on my neck stood up," he said. "Those are the moments I'll never forget."

Mark enjoys a solitary moment while getting familiar with the Olympic Club's Lake course during his first practice round on Monday.

To help calm his nerves, Mark met with friend and sport psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella at the practice green on Monday. They talked about the importance of staying loose and having fun. "I'm here as a player, not a spectator," Mark said.

Mark's longtime friend and caddie, Vini (Mad Dog) Lopez, made the trip from New Jersey to be on the bag and attracted attention of his own. That's because Lopez was the original drummer in Bruce Springsteen's band before leaving the group after a disagreement with the band's manager. When Lopez isn't caddieing, he plays the drums in a band called License to Chill.

Mark hits balls on the range before Tuesday's practice round with Phil Mickelson, Beau Hossler, 17, and Alberto Sanchez, 18. Keeping Mark company are his son Ryan (left) and Vini.

Mark said he was looking forward to playing with Mickelson as much or more than playing in the Open. A mutual friend helped arrange the round, and Mark said Phil couldn't have been nicer or more gracious. The two even teamed for a match against Hossler and Sanchez. "Lefties versus righties," Mickelson said. "Old guys against the young guys." The teenagers, however, got the best of Phil and Mark this day, winning the match 1 up.

Mark's golf balls are stamped with Dr. Beeper, a nod to Dan Resin's character in the movie "Caddyshack" and the life of a busy golf professional.

What made the week extra special for Mark was sharing the experience with his family. His son Ryan, 20, walked inside the ropes during all three practice rounds, talking strategy and offering occasional swing advice. Mark's wife, Linda, and son Mark, 18, walked outside the ropes, along with many close friends.

Mark putts out on the picturesque 18th hole to wrap up a memorable practice round with Mickelson.

Mark signs a few autographs during Tuesday's practice round. Interestingly, Mark's caddie, Vini, also got a few autograph requests. Said Mark: "He's the real rock star of the group."

No other player took advantage of the wellness center in the caddie hospitality tent more than Mark this week. Treatments included stretching, massages and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (pictured), which involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized tube. The purpose is to promote healing and faster recovery. "I'm 49. I need all the help I can get," Mark said.

On the night before the first round, Mark enjoyed a casual dinner in downtown San Francisco with wife Linda, sons Mark and Ryan and some of his good friends who traveled to San Francisco to cheer him on.

Mark seemed very relaxed on the eve of his first major championship. "Mark is very laid back," Linda said. "Nothing seems to bother him that much." Though Mark later admitted he didn't sleep well.

Mark arrived at the course early on Thursday for a stretching appointment, only half-joking that he tweaked a muscle in his back getting out of the hyperbaric chamber the day before.

Mark and Vini talk on the practice green before Thursday's round. "It was really nice having him on the bag this week," Mark said. "He's been with me for a long time, including when I've struggled. I'm glad we can enjoy this together."

Mark warms up for his Thursday round. His playing companions for Thursday and Friday are Cole Howard, 26, of Fort Worth, and Oregon State golfer Nick Sherwood. Both would miss the cut as well.

Now on the tee, Mark McCormick of Middletown, N.J. Perhaps a little nervous, Mark pulls his opening tee shot right and makes bogey.

After going five over through seven holes Mark played the next six holes in one under par before finishing with two triples and two bogeys. "I wish the ending had been a little different, but I really had a great time."

Linda followed Mark outside the ropes for both rounds and occasionally supplied him with apples and bananas, his favorite mid-round snacks.

This was likely the last time Mark tries to qualify for the U.S. Open. Next year he'll be 50, and he says he wants to go for the U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship. "I think I'll turn the reins over to my son Ryan. It was nice letting him see what the experience is all about."

With thousands of spectators looking on, Mark takes time to appreciate the moment as he makes his way up the hill to the 18th green on Friday.

Mark and his wife Linda share a kiss moments after his round ended Friday. Says Mark of his week at Olympic: "It's the best golf experience of my life. It's something I'll never forget."

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