Texas senior Travis Vick set for start of PGA Tour fortnight at Mayakoba

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A Houston native, University of Texas senior Travis Vick had longed dreamed of teeing it up in his hometown PGA Tour event, and this year, the letter worked, as Vick was chosen to compete in next week’s Cadence Bank Houston Open on a sponsor exemption. The event at Memorial Park was slated to mark Vick’s first non-major Tour start – he was low amateur at the U.S. Open this past summer – but that was until Vick received some more great news about a week and half ago.

World Wide Technology sponsors this week’s Tour stop at Mayakoba and Golf Channel’s East Lake Cup, a college tournament that takes place in late October and in which Texas was competing last week. So, why not invite one of the top college players from the East Lake field to tee it up with the pros? Last year, Eugenio Chacarra of Oklahoma State received the honor; this time it was Vick, who currently sits No. 10 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

When Texas head coach John Fields relayed a message from tournament director Joe Mazzeo, who was inquiring if Vick would be interested in playing, Vick didn’t hesitate: “Yeah, absolutely, I can make time to go to Mayakoba.”

A Tour fortnight: Mayakoba one week, Houston the next.

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“Being able to play back-to-back tournaments is really cool because it gives you a feel for what life on the Tour is like for two straight weeks,” Vick said. “What people might not understand is how grueling it really is, the travel involved, the expenses … the grinding; everyone out here is in full grind mode.”

Including Vick, who has been non-stop since he arrived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on Sunday. He got in six holes that afternoon at El Camaleon Golf Club, then a full 18 on Monday. On Tuesday, he played a pro-am at a different course before heading back to the host venue for a twilight back nine.

The 7:30 a.m.-7 p.m. shifts the past two days have left little time for Vick to think about the tall task at hand: trying to take down the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, two-time defending champion Viktor Hovland and over a hundred other card-carrying Tour members.

But even when he looks down the driving range, Vick isn’t intimidated. He knows a few of the guys well, especially Scheffler, a Longhorn alum and mentor of Vick’s. And his T-43 finish, best among amateurs, last June at Brookline bolstered his confidence.

“The U.S. Open made the wow factor go away,” Vick said.

Vick sticks to the saying, “Good golf is good golf, no matter who’s swinging it.” Though the conditioning, hospitality and field strength of a Tour event is unmatched, Vick’s experience on the collegiate level isn’t anything to sneeze at. One could easily argue some of the layouts Texas plays – Seminole, Pasatiempo, Prairie Dunes, Olympia Fields – are set up tougher than El Camaleon will be.

It’s just those pros are different than the college kids. “Night and day,” Vick says. “They don’t make mistakes.”

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Vick’s amateur resume is hearty – U.S. Amateur semifinalist last year; Western Amateur semifinalist this year; earned the clinching point for Texas’ NCAA title last season; former No. 1 junior in the country before college. But if there’s something that eats at him, it’s that he hasn’t won much – or, when it comes to college golf, at all.

“I’m a big believer that you need to dominate at each stage,” Vick said. “If you’re dominating college golf, then you’re ready for the professional level. … My goal is to actually win something.”

There’s still time. Vick admittedly didn’t have the best of fall seasons, with just one top-10 finish and a couple showings outside the top 30. Though if this spring is anything like the last, when Vick was runner-up at regionals among five other top-11 finishes, a turnaround could be brewing.

“I’m hoping these two weeks will be a spark,” Vick said.

For those who haven’t seen Vick hit a golf shot, he’s a two-way player like he was on the football field in high school. He’s an elite driver and putts it nicely, too. Around the greens, however, he’s got some ground to make up.

“That’s been the biggest improvement,” Vick said of his short game. “Now, with that being said, when you start at the bottom, which is where my short game was, you only have one way to go and that’s up.”

As Vick tells it, his bunker play was so bad his freshman year of college that he’d be ecstatic just to find the green from a greenside trap. And last season, he double-hit three chips at three different college tournaments from tight, into-the-grain, Bermuda lies.

“Atrocious,” Vick calls it. “I’ve now got it to a somewhat acceptable level, not Tour ready, but average.”

Full-field scores from the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba

On a layout in El Camaleon where Hovland, the Tour’s self-proclaimed worst chipper, has won twice, Vick isn’t too concerned about the demands of the green surrounds this week. Rather he knows this Greg Norman design demands accuracy off the tee, more so than any other stop on Tour.

“And I haven’t been hitting it straight this fall,” Vick confesses.

Hovland only hit two drivers during the final round at Mayakoba last fall, so Vick reckons he’ll employ a lot of 3-woods and driving irons so that he finds the short grass and not the mangroves. If that solves Vick’s recent dispersion issues, it’ll be a nice tradeoff for keeping what usually is his greatest weapon in the bag.

And it could mean the difference between Vick contending and having a couple extra days to kill before Houston Open week.

“If I’m in the fairway, I’m going to play well,” Vick predicts. “But if I’m in the mangroves and I’m asking my dad to go to my locker and grab more golf balls, then it will probably be an early week.”