Close your eyes and imagine that you are a professional golfer. Now, think about Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els all breathing down your neck with a career-changing tournament title on the line.
Heath Slocum lived and survived that scenario last season to win at the Barclays, one stroke in front of that all-star foursome.
''Obviously, it does a lot of good anytime you win,'' Slocum said last week as he awaited opening his PGA Tour season at the SBS Championship this week at the Kapalua Plantation Course. ''I definitely wasn't playing up to my ability at the beginning of the year. I wasn't scoring, nothing was going right. I had a good week at The Barclays and everything went right and since then things have been great. It was definitely on one of the biggest stages, huge just being in front of those names at the end of the day. It was a good thing, for sure, and I'm looking to build on it this year.''
AP file photo
Heath Slocum celebrates after winning The Barclays last year for his third PGA Tour title.
Slocum has been to the season-opening, winners-only event twice before - finishing in a tie for 23rd in both 2005 and 2006.
This time, he comes in on a remarkable roll that shot him from the brink of elimination to the year-end spotlight. He made the FedEx Cup playoffs at No. 124 on the points list, one spot ahead of the final slot, and two points in front of 126th-place Matt Jones. He eventually finished eighth on the list.
His Barclays win came in the first playoff event and he rode that momentum all the way to the Tour Championship, which he entered in fifth place in the standings.
SBS CHAMPIONSHIP TICKETS
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Pro-am (Wednesday), first round (Thursday) or second round (Friday)---$20.
Third round (Jan. 9) or final round (Jan. 10)---$30.
Season pass (Monday through Jan. 10)---$80.
Contact---(877) 772-5425, kapalua.com
Children 16 and under admitted free when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult.
Slocum comes to Kapalua ranked 71st in the world, a season-ending career best for the 35-year-old University of South Alabama graduate.
His third trip to Kapalua could end up better than the first two if the wind is as calm as forecasted this week.
''What do I remember about Kapalua? It was windy, really windy,'' he said. ''The very first competitive round I played there was very little wind and I was 4 under par.''
That 69 is his only round in the 60s at the 7,411-yard, par-73 Plantation.
''Every other time I played it, the wind was blowing extremely hard and it is a very tough course when the wind is blowing,'' said Slocum, who is among a group of several players in the field from the Atlanta area, including Matt Kuchar, Stuart Cink and Troy Matteson.
The high temperature in Atlanta on Sunday, according to weather.com, was 33 degrees.
''I will be honest, I am looking forward for some warm weather,'' Slocum said. ''I talked to Kuchar, Cink and Matteson and we are all looking forward to getting away from Atlanta. Hopefully we have some good weather and can shoot some good scores.''
Slocum admits he is not coming to Maui with a lot of recent practice.
''It has just been really wet and really cold. I have been trying to prepare for it the last few weeks, trying to wind up the intensity, but it is hard swinging with three layers on all the time,'' Slocum said. ''You have to knock off some of the rust. I don't feel like my game is off much, so a couple of days in the warm weather might be the remedy.''
His third career win helped Slocum finish with a career-high $2.15 million for the year and pushed him over $11 million in career earnings on tour since 2005. And he did it on the tour's biggest stage outside of the majors.
''All that good play, you hope to use it like a snowball effect, just try to build on it,'' Slocum said. ''Hopefully I can use the last part of last year and translate it into a full year. That is what we all strive for. ... Hopefully I will be back in 2011 at Kapalua.''
It was a clutch 20-foot birdie putt he sank on the final green at Liberty National that won The Barclays and stamped his Maui ticket. Stricker was in the same group and missed a 10-foot birdie try and Woods, in the group ahead, missed a seven-foot birdie putt.
Slocum said he would not miss the Kapalua trip the victory afforded him.
''In my opinion, it is a privilege to be here,'' he said. ''You look at some of those guys with multiple wins every year and they may take it for granted, but I sure don't.''
Being anywhere on a golf course was little more than a dream 12 years ago when Slocum contracted ulcerative colitis, an intestinal disease, and dropped from 150 to 122 pounds. He missed the next year and a half of golf.
''Yeah, I was definitely wondering if I might not ever play again,'' Slocum said. ''I didn't know anything about ulcerative colitis at the time. When I looked it up, I thought I would play golf again, but you never know when you miss that kind of time, if maybe you have missed the window. There were a lot of doubts. When I came back I was invigorated. I was glad to be playing --- I took that attitude and I actually came back a better player.''
In September he donated $40,000 to three charities associated with the Tour Championship --- $20,000 to the East Lake Foundation and $10,000 each to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Chrohn's and Colitis Foundation.
Now, he steps onto the stage at Kapalua again.
''This is exactly what I have prepared myself for,'' he said.
Robert Collias is at email@example.com