The Natural

<b>Cheyenne Mountain (Colo.)</b> State Champion golfer and U.S. Open veteran <b>Tom Glissmeyer</b> already has major game.



This article appears in the October/November 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

In real life, Tiger Woods is mired in the worst slump of his career. But in video game land, he's better than ever. At least when Cheyenne Mountain senior Tom Glissmeyer is manning the controls.

If Glissmeyer is not on a real golf course, there's a good chance the defending Class 4A state champion is playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 on his PlayStation 2. Although Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are his two favorite golfers in real life and the game features a create-a-player mode, virtual Tiger is Glissmeyer's go-to guy for two reasons.

One, when Tiger's attributes are maxed out, he's unstoppable. And two, Glissmeyer says he doesn't want to jinx his future in golf by playing as his virtual self.

"I don't want to tread into those waters," says Glissmeyer, who spurned Duke and Georgia Tech to commit to USC in September.

It's not that Glissmeyer doesn't belong on the same course as Tiger, Mickelson or Singh. He proved that two summers ago, when, at age 16, he was the youngest competitor at the 2003 U.S. Open after shooting a 3-under-par 141 (72-69) in the sectional qualifier at Columbine Country Club.

Playing in a group behind Ernie Els and the real Tiger at Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois, Glissmeyer missed the cut at the Open with a two-day total of 19-over-par 159 (80-79) and finished in a two-way tie for last place.

Still, he managed to make a name for himself when, in front of a packed grandstand and a television audience, he drained a 16-foot putt to birdie the 18th hole on the second day, breaking 80 to beat Jack Nicklaus' score from his first U.S. Open by a stroke.

"It was a bit overwhelming," says Glissmeyer, who aspires to play in the Masters by the time he's 20. "Being thrust into 30,000 people and having to play golf is a challenge to itself, let alone playing a difficult golf course set up for the U.S. Open. It was a very rewarding experience as far as growing a lot. I got to see what the highest level is and what I need to do to get there. I learned a lot that week."

He applied those lessons last fall when he faced a two-stroke deficit with only four holes remaining in the Class 4A state finals. Playing with the coolness of Tiger in his prime, Glissmeyer birdied holes 15 and 16 and parred 17 before sinking a 31-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a sudden-death playoff.

Glissmeyer then shot a par on the first hole in sudden death to defeat then-sophomore Erik Lundberg of Montrose, clinching his first state title after finishing third as a freshman — just one shot out of a three-way tie for first — and losing in sudden death as a sophomore.

"He never, ever quits," says Cheyenne Mountain 25th-year head coach Bill Paulson. "It's hard to really know if he is 2- or 3-under or 2- or 3-over. He doesn't lose his cool. He's got ice water in his veins and will hit some shots that most of us would never think about."

Those shots have become lore of sorts in southern Colorado, as has his penchant for comebacks.

Glissmeyer, who took up golf when he was 6, first broke 70 as a 13-year-old when he shot 68 at the Country Club of Colorado. He then broke the course record by shooting a 9-under-par 63 as a 15-year-old and has matched that score once since.

He also won the Colorado Junior Golf Association Match Play Championship in both 2002 and 2003 by coming from behind in the final round. And this past summer, he made the cut for the second straight year at the U.S. Amateur in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

"Anybody who has played with him has a Tom Glissmeyer story," says Paulson. "People were talking to me about Tom when he was in seventh grade. As an eighth-grader, he'd be at the [Country Club of Colorado] all the time. Kind of like Tiger Woods-type stuff, where he's doing phenomenal stuff as a kid. Everybody knew about him at an early age, and he hasn't disappointed anybody."

Actually, that's not entirely true.

Ever the perfectionist, Glissmeyer is his own harshest critic and is rarely — if ever — satisfied with his performance. What he remembers most about setting the Country Club of Colorado course record are his four lip-outs that round.

That's why Garry Glissmeyer, Tom's dad, made Paulson promise to encourage Tom to be a normal 17-year-old and shrug off bad shots.

"I tend to err on the too serious side," says Glissmeyer, who has a 4.2 weighted GPA. "I think that a lot of times I put unnecessary pressure on myself, and that's something I've had to work on to find the line of pushing myself hard and being obsessive."

That obsession, however, is what makes Glissmeyer so ruthless on the links. It's why he works on his game at least nine hours a day during the summer and six hours a day during the school year. It's what drives him to play year-round as long as there's no snow on the ground, even when it's 20 degrees outside.

That same obsession is why Paulson expects Glissmeyer to one day play on the PGA Tour. It's also why Glissmeyer plays golf in the first place.

Other sports came too easily to Glissmeyer, who won a 16-and-under Country Club of Colorado tennis tournament when he was 12 and was also an elite baseball player with a gun for an arm. But he gave up both sports after eighth grade to concentrate on golf.

"A child psychologist here in town once said he was an athletic genius," Garry says. "I don't know what qualifications he had to make that comment, but Tom seemed to understand sports very, very early.

"He maybe got too good too early," Garry adds. "But golf was different. Golf was beating him. There was always another score that he could achieve. He could play a perfect game of baseball and his team could lose. If he loses in golf, the only person he can blame is himself."

That rationale explains Glissmeyer's passion for skiing. Another individual activity in which each trail blazes to a different challenge, skiing is Glissmeyer's favorite way to relax (PlayStation 2 is a distant second).

"It's a nice way to get away from school, get away from golf, get away from everything for a weekend," says Glissmeyer, who has played at St. Andrews in Scotland and shot a 71 on the famous Old Course. "I don't have anything to worry about up there, that's for sure."

He plans on going up at least 20 times this winter, taking advantage of the Colorado slopes before heading out West for college. Once he's in Los Angeles, Vail won't be as accessible and he'll have to rely on video game golf to stay grounded.

Just don't expect Glissmeyer to play as himself. After all, with the Masters next on his list of goals, he can't afford to jinx himself.

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