The infamous “We talkin’ ‘bout practice” quote from basketball player Allen Iverson has developed a life of its own, 10 years after Iverson scoffed at taking practice seriously.
“Practice!” In 2002, the despicable word rolled off Iverson’s tongue as if it contained poison. It sounded as if it might be synonymous with the plague.
At the time, Iverson was a pro and played for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Here at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, known far and wide as Q-School, many veteran golf pros are candidates for uttering a golf version of Iverson’s quote.
“Q-School!” they might say with equal doses of hate and disdain.
Heath Slocum, 38, has won four PGA Tour titles and more than $15 million in his 16-year professional career. Regardless, he is back at Q-School because he ran out of options. In 29 Tour events in 2012, he won $518,198 to rank 142nd on the official money list.
So he has to face the six-round, 108-hole gauntlet known as Q-School. As Allen Iverson might say, “We talkin’ ‘bout being a little old for goin’ to school?”
Sorry, no choice. Slocum has posted rounds of 70-66-67 and stands 13-under-par at the halfway recess.
Slocum, who missed the final green and had to get up-and-down to save par, was remarkably calm after signing his scorecard.
“The last few years have been tough,” he said, “but I made it tough — on myself and my golf. I am healthy, but my game has not been. Slowly I’m in the process of gearing back to the good, old days, to how I approached golf, to the way I went about taking care of business, to how much fun I used to have.”
What happened to Slocum?
“I think I got away from who I am. I think the game just bullies you. You’re trying to improve all the time, and you get away from what you do best. Before you know it, you’re not playing golf as you know it.
“So I’m trying to return to the old me. I keep telling myself, ‘This is how I played golf well. This is how I practiced to play my best. This is the thought process I got into.’ I’m thinking about everything I used to do.”
In other words, this is the reincarnation of Heath Slocum.
“The toughest part is having young kids and having to leave them,” he said. “But I love the competition. I love the sport. It’s an incredible way to make a living. So what am I going to do?”
Slocum has the answer to that question: “At the end of the day, you have to take care of your (PGA Tour) card, be in good position (on the money list), make your schedule, play less golf.
“I had a stretch where I played about 25 tournaments a year,” he added. “On the surface, you don’t think it (a leaner schedule) makes that much difference, but it does. Five tournaments is a lot. Heck, three tournaments is a lot.”
Slocum and his wife, Vicky, have two children who are about to turn 5 and 3. Slocum knows the drill: To spend more time at home, he has to play better. This means he can reduce his playing schedule. This year, he was forced to add tournaments in his quest for a top 125 exemption.
Looking at the various professional golf tours, it’s amazing how many touring professionals have fathers or mothers in the golf industry.
Robert Karlsson, challenging for medalist honors in this Q-School, is the son of a golf course superintendent.
Slocum is the son of a golf professional, Jack Slocum.
“He taught me to play the game,” Slocum said. “Not necessarily how to swing it, but how to play and have fun doing it. I’m trying to go full circle right now, trying to get back to where I was before.”
There also is a Ping story here. His dad started him out with Ping clubs, and Slocum has never used anything else.
“Ping clubs were my first full set of golf clubs,” he said, “and I’ve never played anything different in competition. They’ve been taking care of me since my sophomore year of college. They’re definitely a family company. I was out of golf for a couple of years with sickness (ulcerative colitis, causing his weight to drop from 150 to 122), and they couldn’t have been more supportive.”
Today, Slocum carries a mix of Ping equipment, from i20 irons to a G15 driver to a G20 3-wood. He has used his putter, a Pal 4, since 1994.
Slocum played on the Milton (Fla.) High School golf team with Boo Weekley. A few years later, Bubba Watson was a member of the Milton team.
As Slocum reminisced on his career, a theme emerged — back to the future. He wants to recreate his earlier approach to golf, believing it will insure future success in this wacky game.