Letter to My Younger Self

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James Hahn, Guest Contributor - The Players' Tribune

Dear James,

Over the next 25 years, you’ll go through struggles and triumphs that you can’t even imagine right now. From a shoe salesman at Nordstrom to a PGA Tour winner, I’m here to help walk you through that journey.

You’re about eight years old, growing up in Alameda, California, watching golf greats like Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Chi-Chi Rodriguez. You can grow up and be like them one day. Everything in life is attainable. You can do whatever you want and be whomever you want to be. Keep dreaming big but know that there are hundreds of thousands of kids with the same aspirations as you. Some are even more dedicated to their craft than you are — so work harder.

As you grow up and become a successful junior golfer, you’ll hear some people say, “You’re one of the greatest junior golfers I’ve ever seen. You’ll win multiple PGA Tour events and The Masters one day.” Don’t listen to them. Some of those same people praising you will be the ones telling you to get a real job and give up on golf years later when you struggle on mini tours. They will be essential in your motivation to succeed.

There are a lot of haters in life. For the personality that you have, it means more to you to prove someone wrong than it means to prove someone right. Use what they say as motivation to do better. It’s a blessing in disguise. Those people will play a role in you eventually becoming a champion.

In college, you’ll have a lot of regret about going to the University of California, Berkeley. Poor you, huh? To be able to get an education at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities. But seriously … yes, there will be scholarship offers from other Division-I schools with better golf programs like Duke, Michigan and Arizona State. Yes, you wanted to venture out but instead you’re only 20 minutes away from home. However, you will learn that Cal is the best place for you. The friendships you form there will be lifelong bonds that are irreplaceable.

Valero Texas Open - Round Two

Also, while you’re there, please learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Making more sacrifices in college will make things a lot easier later in life. Partying and hanging out with friends is all fine, but figure out early in your college life when enough is enough. Just because you feel like you deserve better does not mean that your effort on the greens should be lacking.

In your senior year, you’ll decide to quit golf. As shocking as it sounds, this will be one of the best decisions of your life. Once you take a step away from the sport, you will realize how lucky you are to have had that opportunity. Don’t do it any other way. There will be a lot of people who will give positive and negative advice regarding the decision. Believe in yourself. This is what you need to do to get your inspiration back.

There are a lot of haters in life. Those people will play a role in you eventually becoming a champion.

After college there will be a weird period in your life where you do a bit of everything, from working at an advertising agency to selling shoes at Nordstrom. It’s not how you envisioned it but trust me, it’s all for the better in the long run. Only thing is, please refrain from trying to morph into Hans and Franz with your friends. Trying to bench press 300 pounds will not improve your golf game; it will only blow out your shoulder and result in an injury that will plague you the rest of your career.

In 2006, your golf itch will return. A job opportunity at a local golf course in the Bay Area will allow you to work on your game, play on mini tours and eventually work your way to the Korean PGA Tour.

You’ll do fairly well over there and have about $8,000 in your bank account before entering the Canadian Tour. Your time on this tour will be the most pivotal time of your career. Before we get into that, let me tell you something that will one day save your career: be stingy. Being frugal earlier on in your career will help you more than you’ll ever know. It’s OK to have one pair of jeans. It’s OK to have one pair of shoes. It’s OK to stay at cheap hotels. When everyone else on the tour is out ordering Patron shots all night, opt to babysit your beer. You didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth, so you can’t afford to keep up with these people who did.

Valero Texas Open - Round Two

The financial sacrifices you make early on will pay huge dividends before a tournament in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2008. You’ll have $188 in your bank account. It’s not even enough to cover your caddie fee. However, you’ll borrow and scrape together just enough to enter the tournament. Without the aforementioned sacrifices, this moment wouldn’t even be possible. In Edmonton, it’s do-or-die as far as your golf career is concerned. Without a Top 10 finish, you can’t afford to keep funding a struggling, expensive golf career.

Your 8th place finish and prize money of $3,000 will provide a lifeline. The following year, you’ll return to win the tournament.

You’ve made it. Congratulations. This isn’t a time to think about chasing money, though.

It’s moments like these when you’ll realize why you kept faith in yourself to keep pursuing your dreams. Your second year in qualifying school, you’ll have an opportunity to obtain your PGA Tour Card. In Q-School, on the 18th hole in Bear Creek, Florida, you’ll need to two-putt from about 60 feet out. The first putt will leave you about six feet short of the hole.

Do not — I repeat, do not — use the line on your ball to line up your putt. Your hands will be shaking so much that you can’t get the line to line up straight anyways. Now is not the time to try something new. Trust your instinct — you’re a great putter. You’ll miss it to the left but you’ll eventually get your PGA Tour Card through the Web.com Tour in 2013.

You’ve made it. After years on mini tours, the Korean PGA Tour, the Canadian Tour and Q-School, you’re now a PGA golfer. Congratulations.

This isn’t a time to think about chasing money, though. There are going to be club reps who will approach you with big figure contracts. Do what’s best for your golf game rather than your bank account. Success on the greens will lead to financial stability in the near future.

The Masters - Preview Day 2

Speaking of the greens, dedicate more time to your short game. The most successful people on the PGA Tour have long careers because their short game is phenomenal. That will be the key to success. Great ball striking alone will not win tournaments for you. Spend more time on chipping and putting.

Also, in 2015, you might want to get rid of that putter you’ve been using for the past nine years. Just a hunch. It will pay off very soon.

At the 2015 Northern Trust Open, you’ll play some of the best golf of your life. You’ve made all the right decisions and sacrifices to earn a PGA Tour victory. All you have to do is execute. You deserve to be a tournament champion.

When you do win and get interviewed, make sure you thank your parents first. You know they’re watching and crying. Acknowledge that it was a team victory. You didn’t do this on your own. Their support from Day 1 helped you get to this moment.

Seven days later, you will go out with fellow Tour golfer Matt Jones. You deserve to celebrate your victory but one tequila shot is enough. Do. Not. Get. Hammered. The next day, being hungover while your wife goes into labor is not fun. You are not 21 anymore.

Assuming you don’t listen to my advice, at least the pain of your hangover will be washed away when you first lock eyes with your daughter. It will be the most beautiful experience you ever have in your life. It is OK to cry. Her birth represents a new beginning. You have a greater responsibility to take care of her and your wife.

Your first Masters Tournament is right around the corner. You’ve prepared and you’re ready. Go out there and have fun. Ten years ago, you were selling shoes at Nordstrom and searching for jobs on Craigslist. Anything is possible.

Good luck,
James