“These guys are good.” It is the slogan we associate with the PGA Tour, and one that very accurately summarizes why we love to follow the weekly action. Tracking a group of highly skilled athletes battle to remain atop a leaderboard, on Sunday afternoon, provides viewers with a suspenseful experience which never fails to remind us that the above slogan is tremendously appropriate. With that said, there is only one winner every week, so while these players are good, what exactly makes certain competitors better than others?
It may seem obvious to state that it is hard to win on the PGA Tour, but the reasons why it’s difficult are not as simple to identify. We watch as professional athletes either rise to the occasion, fall just short, or completely collapse...but what are the factors surrounding each of these scenarios? Careful examination will allow us, as fans, to understand exactly why you can “be good”, but still not good enough.
Chances Don’t Come Around Often - During the 2000 PGA Tour season, Tiger Woods won 9 events, and contended practically every time he tipped it. It will remain one of the best season in the history of golf because what he accomplished was unheard of. The reality is that, no matter how good you are, serious chances at winning simply don’t come around as often as you would like them. A fantastic way to test this is to try and name all the golfers who are currently ranked in the top-10 in the Official World Golf Rankings. This can be a tall task for even the most avid fans, and it is because these golfers are not winning on a regular basis. The golfers who come to our mind quickly are often those who have won recently, for we best remember those who win. This test proves that even the best golfers in the world will struggle to claim titles because it is never something that is easy to accomplish. The
Big Miss - In 2013, Hank Haney released a memoir with this title providing a first hand account of his experiences while serving as Tiger Wood’s swing coach. He explains that the title came from Tiger’s constant fear of losing events as a result of one “big miss”. Obviously a fearful attitude is never conducive to winning, but big misses are a reality of golf. One mistake can be the difference between claiming a title or reflecting upon what could have been. Over the course of 72 holes, and around 270 shots, there are a lot of chances to take yourself out of it with one swing.
Focus - If you can’t focus appropriately, then you can’t win. It takes years to learn and develop the ability to focus in the correct ways, at the correct times, over the duration of a four-day competition. This focus must be grafted into an intricate skill set which involves many other factors such as confidence and mechanical technique.
Confidence - You can be born cocky, but no one is born confident, for confidence is developed over time and is the by-product of meaningful experiences associated with your craft. You can’t become a champion as a result of pride and arrogance; confidence is a key component in the makeup of a champion. A golfer learns to win, by placing themselves in the position to win on multiple occasions, for those experiences are essential for teaching a golfer how to deal with the challenges associated with winning. As they engage in such learning through authentic circumstances, they develop confidence over time. It should be noted however, that confidence is very fragile, and years of work developing it can be lost for short, or even long, periods of time. For proof, we need look no further than Tiger. Golf has never seen a player with the confidence that he displayed throughout the prime moments in his career. Books have been penned attempting to explain it, but texts have also been written accounting the turns his career took, and his inability to regain the confidence we once marveled at.
There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day - While competitive experiences lead to confidence, years of practice are required to develop the skills necessary to put you in those positions. As a competitive golfer, there are so many skills that one must develop in order to compete. Physical skills such as chipping, putting, full swing mechanics; and psychological skills such as visualization, focus, confidence and self-regulation, are just some of the areas golfers must address in their practice regimens. For many, there are simply not enough hours in the day to adequately practice all that is required to be a champion golfer. For this reason, those who learn to win are often those who learn to manage their practice schedules in a very effective manner. This too can take years to develop.
Times Have Changed - Jack Nicklaus used to win by relying on his competitors making mistakes. He made it his objective to play consistent golf, and then expect that everyone else would eventually fall back from the lead. This mentality would not be as successful on today’s PGA Tour. Slow and steady does not always win the race, especially come Sunday afternoon. Usually it is the player who goes out and takes it, rather than the one who sits back and allows it to come to them. If you want to win, you need to balance going out and taking it, while ensuring that you yourself don’t blow it.
There’s so Much to Lose - If you want to win, you need to block out all external factors and focus on that which you can control, but this is difficult when there is so much on the line. One win can change your life - both professionally and financially. Purses are exponentially greater than they have been in the past, and with the emergence of social media, the world is tuning in. They are factors such as these which can easily creep into one’s mind and lead to performance sabotage.
Sacrifice - No matter who you are, or what your circumstances have been, you will have to make sacrifices if you want to earn a living on Tour. Winning provides you with the opportunity to justify all the sacrifices you’ve made along the way. Sacrifices are not easy to make, for they require you to give up something meaningful. Whether it be time with your family, turning your back on a more steady line of work, or making other hard financial decisions, it is difficult to make these sacrifices, but the reality is that if you want to win, they have to be made.
Field Sizes - A typical field begins with 144 players on Thursday, is cut to approximately half that Friday, only to have one winner Sunday afternoon. The above has outlined many of the requirements a golfer must meet individually if they want to win on Tour, but another factor which makes it so difficult to win is the fact that many times you can meet all of these requirements and still fall short. All it takes is one player to make one less stroke over the course of 72 holes, and you won’t win. The 2015 Masters illustrates this well. Justin Rose played four rounds of inspired golf. He finished at 14 under par, only four shots shy of the tournament scoring record, yet lost to Jordan Spieth who tied that very mark. When asked at the conclusion of the event what he would need to do in the future to claim the Masters title, Justin responded by saying, “Shoot 14 under”. He had done everything needed to win, but in this case, like many others, it simply wasn’t good enough.
You Don’t Have Teammates to Pick Up Your Slack - In team sports such as hockey, football or basketball, you can compete with less than your “A game” and still be crowned a champion because you have teammates to rely on along the way. This is not the case with golf. While your caddy is a teammate, and does play a major role in setting you up for success, you are the one executing each shot. To quote Dr. Bob Rotella, “Golf is not a game of perfect”, however, mistakes can still cost you and golf does not afford you the opportunity to rely on teammates to pick up slack on the journey towards a championship.
This article was written by Jonathan Carr (@jonathanwcarr) as part of our weekly 'Top 10' series. As a scratch golfer himself, Jonathan has a keen eye for what it takes to be successful on and off the golf course. His passion for golf is surpassed only by his passion for his faith and his family.
Read some of Jonathan's other articles here.