Michael Visacki was so overwhelmed by the moment, so nervous to be living out his childhood dream, that he stepped up Thursday and pummeled his opening tee shot 334 yards, straight down the center of the fairway.
“Pretty special,” he said afterward, and the next five hours did little to diminish his enthusiasm.
Visacki, the mini-tour grinder who went viral earlier this week after his emotional reaction to Monday qualifying into the Valspar Championship, birdied the first hole of his PGA Tour career. Never mind that he bogeyed the next three holes – he steadied himself over the remaining 14 holes, playing them in 1 over par to shoot 3-over 74 and give himself a chance, with a good round Friday, to make the cut at Innisbrook.
Fueled by longtime supporters in the crowd – he grew up about an hour south, in Sarasota – Visacki said his two opening-round highlights were his blistered tee shot on the first hole and a 10-footer for birdie on No. 13 that drew a raucous reaction from the crowd.
“Everyone’s been so supportive of me this week,” he said, “and I appreciate that and I’m going to go out and shoot a low one tomorrow.”
It’s been a whirlwind week for Visacki, 27, who has been one of the feel-good stories in golf this year after he sank a long putt to earn his way into the Tampa-area Tour event. He was part of the early-week news conference schedule, alongside big names like Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas, and then lived out his dream with a 9:07 a.m. start time on the Copperhead course.
How’d he sleep on the eve of this career-changer?
“Last night was a little bit easier than even really the Monday qualifier,” Visacki said. “I had barely got any sleep that night, but last night was probably the first night that I’ve actually gotten some decent sleep this week.”
He also had a comfortable grouping alongside Brad Adamonis and Hank Lebioda, with whom Visacki has played for more than a decade, dating to their junior golf days. They entered college the same year, in 2012, with Lebioda going to Florida State and Visacki heading for a year to Central Florida before turning pro.
“When I saw the video, it made me feel really good, because I know Mike’s been playing really well and also working really hard,” said Lebioda, who opened with 66. “To be able to get into this hometown event, for him, it’s really neat.”
While hitting eight fairways and 11 greens and taking 29 putts, Visacki’s opening round has left him with work to do to make the 36-hole cut; among the early starters he beat only 10 players, and he ended the day outside the top 125. He had a clear goal for Friday.
“Go out and shoot the lowest round possible,” he said. “Make as many birdies as I can.”