IN COLLEGE THEY CALLED ME ROADRUNNER. My freshman year, I weighed 115 pounds, but I hit these low bullets off the tee that ran out 280 yards. Not exactly Golden Bear, Tiger or Great White Shark, but better to have a nickname than nothing.

● ● ●

I WAS A COCKY LITTLE S_.__ My older brother and our friends learned golf at a Groves, Tex., muny known as The Pea Patch. It had no bunkers, dry water hazards, internal out-of-bounds whose only function was adding interest to the treeless, flat ground—it was about the worst golf course you could imagine. Except the tiny, raised greens taught you to scramble.

● ● ●

I'M NOT THE FIRST PGA TOUR WINNER RAISED AT THE PEA PATCH. Chris Stroud grew up there, too, and I followed him to Lamar University. But the best decision I ever made was transferring to the University of Arkansas when Lamar's head coach got the job there. I think I'd have followed Brad McMakin anywhere. His assistant, Layne Savoie, would make me practice my short game for 10 hours before I could get a lesson. Ditching the idea of trying to out-ball-strike other golfers helped make me a three-time All-American.

● ● ●

BUT MY FIRST FOUR YEARS AS A PRO, I STRUGGLED. I lived in Baton Rouge, and no club in the area would grant me playing privileges. The only person who respected me as a golfer was the coach at LSU, who'd let me hit balls on the back of the range. The only rounds I played were in tournaments. Friends asked when I was going to give it up.

“MY MOM AND DAD CUT GRASS TO HELP PAY MY ENTRY FEES.”

MY DAD IS A DELIVERY MAN FOR FEDEX, AND MY MOM IS A SCHOOL TEACHER. On weekends they cut grass to help pay my entry fees. I always paid them back. You play harder when it's your money. Golfers bankrolled by someone else tend to think fatalistically: If I don't make it, I don't make it.

● ● ●

MY GIRLFRIEND, ELIZABETH, CONVINCED ME TO REBOOT. That is, to go back to everything I'd done in college: same coach, same clubs, same everything. I gave up my mini-tour equipment deal and paid, which hurt, for a new set of Pings and started driving seven hours each way to Austin to get lessons from the legendary Chuck Cook, who'd trained Savoie.

● ● ●

I SIGNED UP FOR Q SCHOOL IN MISSISSIPPI. I told myself this was my last shot. The site had narrow fairways and small greens to fit my game, plus, I wouldn't know a soul, so I wouldn't get preoccupied with who might be beating me. The first round I shot 81, dead last, and cried. It hit me that I'd need to figure out a job, and I didn't know anything but golf.

My roommate that week was Austin Cook. We said a prayer. The next day it rained, and I shot 64, the low round by three. I'd finish second. I cleaned out my bank account with a ring for Elizabeth, then flew to South America to start the 2016 Web.com Tour season. Crazy how a few birdies will change your life.

● ● ●

THE STORY OF MY WIN IN COLOMBIA WAS WIND DELAYS. A lot of guys suffered near-unplayable conditions many times before getting called in, but not me. Darn if I didn't play the back nine, the teeth of the course, every time with the wind down. I won, but did I deserve it? Later, Jordan Spieth told me he struggled similarly after his first PGA Tour win, when he holed a questionably struck bunker shot to steal the John Deere Classic.

● ● ●

THAT WIN BOOSTS MY STATUS, AND NOW I'M GETTING INTO PGA TOUR EVENTS. Then the world really meets me when I lead the U.S. Open at Oakmont. I was in the final pairing on Sunday but shot 78 to finish T-15. A few shots I wish I could have over, but I think I handled myself well for being thrown on that stage. It helped having Chuck Cook on the phone, who told me Saturday night to get ready for the hardest round of my life. He's seen it all from the USGA. It also helped that I was playing for someone other than myself. The week prior in Memphis, I'd become aware of Austyn, a young leukemia patient from near my hometown, being treated at St. Jude Children's Hospital. Thanks to early-round rain delays at Oakmont, there was just enough time to expedite a deal to capitalize on my TV exposure. A box of shirts with Moonshine Sweet Tea patches arrived at my hotel Friday. I donated my sponsorship check and started a GoFundMe account to raise $37,000 for Austyn that weekend.

● ● ●

GOLFERS WHO LOSE THEIR PGA TOUR CARDS AUTOMATICALLY GO BACK TO THE WEB.COM TOUR, RIGHT? Wrong. At the end of 2016, I found myself with no status anywhere. I should've hedged by playing some Web.com events, but those are hard scheduling decisions when you're in the fog of it. Plus, my head was on getting married. Wasn't the plan, but after our wedding and a six-day bender in Cancun without my clubs, ­I flew to Orlando for Q school. Oh, and my caddie phones to say he's ditching me for another player.

● ● ●

I CHIP IN TWICE ON THE FINAL NINE HOLES TO GET MY CARD. The rest is recent history. This year on the PGA Tour, I lost in a playoff at Palm Desert and won in San Antonio.

● ● ●

MINI-TOUR PLAYERS THINK THERE'S SOME SECRET TO MAKING IT ON THE PGA TOUR. But it's nothing other than self-belief. I had it, but it went missing for four years.

● ● ●

THOUGH I DID LEARN SOME SCHEDULING TRICKS. Like at the 2017 Web.com Tour Championship in Jacksonville, some other guys and I with PGA Tour cards locked withdrew on the weekend so we could travel to Napa to get extra practice rounds in for the first PGA Tour event of the season. Any strategy is better than none. Like, my parents believe in me, but they haven't stopped cutting grass. – With Max Adler


WATCH: GOLF DIGEST VIDEOS