AUGUSTA, Ga. — It was early February, and Vaughn Taylor was laying in bed in a hotel room in Bogota, Colombia, sick from a stomach virus and feeling he had reached his low point as a professional golfer.
At 39, he was down to his last exemption on the PGA Tour, a past champions status from twice winning the Reno-Tahoe Open more than a decade earlier. Back when he was on the U.S. Ryder Cup team and before he lost his PGA Tour card. Before he lost his game.
He was in Colombia on conditional status on the Web.com Tour, a tenuous state of play at best. He had few options left. A year earlier, the Augusta resident went to the Masters not as a player but with his family as a spectator. It seemed to be a glimpse into his future, not that he could think much about that at the moment.
“I was just praying for it to stop,” Taylor said of how he felt that night. “It was a combination of where I was, how I was feeling and what status I had.”
The one thing Taylor had to look forward to was his chance to play the following week in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, though even there he had to hope someone withdrew so he could get in as an alternate.
“I felt a lot of pressure heading into Pebble,” Taylor said, “because I knew it was going to be one of my few (PGA) tour starts of the year.”
Taylor withdrew in Bogota and flew to California with only a carry-on bag to save on baggage fees.
Under the radar? The radar had long stopped looking for him.
What happened next was pure theater. Taylor overcame a final-round six-stroke deficit, shooting 7-under 65 at Pebble Beach to edge Phil Mickelson by a stroke.
It was his first win since 2005. It meant his first Masters invitation since 2008, an invitation to The Players and the PGA Championship and a two-year exemption from qualifying.
In a word, it meant his world changed on one shimmering afternoon along the Pacific.
“It was one of those when-you-least-expect-it moments,” Taylor said. “My experience in golf was, when I was struggling or in a bad place, it seemed to take a long time to turn it around. It turned around in one week. It just tells me never give up. Always believe in yourself, no matter what your game feels like or where you’re playing or what’s going on.”
If he hadn’t won at Pebble Beach, Taylor figures he would be back in Colombia, playing this week’s Web.com Tour event in Cartagena. Instead he’s at the Masters, in his hometown, hoping to capture the spark of what could the biggest week of his golfing career. A career he pulled back from the brink after that magical week in February along Carmel Bay.
He’s here at Augusta National looking for more magic. Taylor’s game has sort of slid back to its pre-Pebble Beach form since his win; he missed the cut in four subsequent starts.
Maybe he wanted this Masters too much, he admitted. But he’s here — as a player, not a spectator.
“All the things that feel funny are kind of my tendencies,” he said. “It’s kind of weird how I’ve been working on them so hard, get them fixed, then my life changes and those things are bothering me again. Just shows you how crazy golf is and how tough it can be sometimes.
“But I feel like I’ve got a game plan. I’m hoping things will come together this week, too.”
It’s happened before. No need to stop dreaming big now.