There could be no bigger stage to begin a professional playing career than at one of golf's major championships.
For former Rice golfer Michael Whitehead that was the setting when he made his professional debut at last year's U.S. Open played at Congressional Country Club.
With the 2012 U.S. Open beginning this week in
Not only did he begin his professional career a year ago this week but since last year's Open Whitehead would also marry former Rice soccer player Jordan Holloway, serve as a volunteer assistant coach for the Owls and find early success at professional events.
Looking back on the start of his career, Whitehead says that first shot as a professional golfer on No. 10 at Congressional is a lasting memory.
"The first tee shot is still vivid," he said. "I had just finished school and the NCAAs. It was quite a stage to start on. The Par 3, No. 10 has a wall of water short and bunkers long. It was terrifying."
Whitehead would stick his first shot on the green, proving he could handle the pressure.
Last year he went on to play some National Golf Association Tour events (formerly the Hooters Tour), would finish third at the Texas Open and went through the PGA's Q School.
"It has been a complete life change," Whitehead said. "No longer am I in school. Golf is my job. It's totally different."
This year Whitehead has played a few events on the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, winning twice - one during the tour's winter season and this spring he shot three rounds in the 60s to win the Rayburn Country Open by two strokes.
"I am playing well and starting to contend for titles," he said. "Now it is not 'play well and finish tenth, it's okay I can win.' It is good to see improvement and I'm just working really hard to get better."
In addition to the Adams Golf Pro Tour, Whitehead has done some Monday qualifiers for PGA and Nationwide events. Ahead on the schedule are some possible NGA events as well as a return to the Texas Open before setting sights on Q School.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," Whitehead said as he looks ahead to his second stab at the PGA's qualifying school. "Last year everything was new. I have played tournaments in high school and college but this is totally different. It is just a different atmosphere - money on the line, the pressure is a lot more intense and the depth of the field is a lot deeper. It's really good to have a year of tournaments under my belt."