April 14, 2009

10 Rules I've Learned On Tour

01 Be comfortable in your own skin.

It's easy to get psyched out playing with certain people, especially if they hit it farther, have a prettier swing, or have won more stuff than you. I made it to the quarterfinals of the [WGC-Accenture] Match Play this year, and then on Sunday watched the final at my home near Pittsburgh. It's funny, I ran into eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy a bunch of times at the event, but it wasn't until I saw him on TV that I realized how comfortable he looks in his own skin. Some players might come across as relaxed because they're joking around, but they're actually really nervous inside. With Geoff, it's different. You can tell he's utterly content to be who he is no matter who he's playing against. He walks in his slow pace, stays in his same, easy rhythm and doesn't play any more aggressively than he always does. That's how I want to be.

02 Learn to recognize confidence.

Growing up in Lubbock, Tex., we had a neighbor who was a top amateur golfer. "Fox" was his nickname. When I was 7, Fox told me that before a horse race starts, when they're in the starting gate, all the horses already know who's going to win, including the one who's going to win. The horse projects an aura of confidence all the others tune in on. What Fox was saying really hit home for me earlier this year when I saw Ernie Els taking out just a wedge and a putter for a practice round. I said to my caddie, "Ernie's going to have a good week." And sure enough, he finished top five. The three times I've won on tour -- the 2005 John Deere, the PODS Championship last year and the Quail Hollow this year -- I've had that uncanny confidence, which I think I projected.

03 Play money matches.

On a Tuesday or Wednesday, I'd rather play a match for a few hundred bucks against Steve Elkington at a nearby course than play a practice round at the tournament course. Like a lot of the veterans, Steve is great at getting in your head. Once he told me to my face that I was a C- player. I don't think he said it to be mean, but to motivate me. Watching how a veteran handles himself in money matches, like how he always gets up and down when he needs to, teaches you how to be tough. It's an invaluable way to prepare, definitely worth any cash you might lose and more important than another day on the tournament course.

04 Travel well, play well.

I can't attribute this wisdom to any specific player, but it's a common mentality among the veterans: Be very observant at each tour stop your first two years. It's hard because this period can be kind of a blur, but if you can figure out which hotels you like to stay at, which restaurants you like to eat at, which courses set up well for you, this will help you set your schedule later in your career. In your second year, make sure you play all the tournaments you missed that first year. Find out which cities you like. If you're excited about going to a place, chances are you'll play better. And one more thing: Travel comfortably, but be smart. I have no problem jumping on a $90 Southwest flight to Florida because I feel less pressure to make a check.

05 Go slow on equipment changes.

Paul Azinger once remarked that the guys tinkering in the equipment trailers week in and week out usually are the same ones missing cuts week in and week out. With all the cool new clubs, plus the pressure of sponsors, sometimes it's hard to resist, but you have to be patient and not put something in play prematurely. My TaylorMade R9 is the best driver I've ever played, but I waited months after it came out until I found just the right shaft and loft and setting. If I'd made the switch too soon, I would have risked never having full confidence in it.

06 Listen to the sand.

I remember the first time I saw Jose Maria Olazabal, who is maybe the world's greatest bunker player, practicing sand shots. His club made more of a thump than a splat sound at impact. I don't know what his technique is, but every time I practice I just try to re-create that sound. Once I hear it, I know that whatever I'm doing is right.

07 Don't depend to much on video.

OK, maybe she's not a PGA Tour veteran, but my wife, Jaclyn, played college golf at Florida Atlantic and knows a thing or two. In 2003, when we were packing the car for the start of another mini-tour season in New England, she demanded I leave the video camera at home. We had had some rough seasons leading up to that, including one point when we were down to our last 3 grand and eating lots of bean-and-cheese burritos just to save enough money for entry fees. During this stretch I had gotten addicted to analyzing my swing on video. Video has its place, but it's better to know your swing by intuition so you can fix it mid-round. I listened to my wife, left the camera at home, and that year I started to turn the corner.

08 Trust your caddie.

When I first came out on tour, I would go out and chart courses with my caddie. Now I leave that responsibility solely to Paul Tesori, who's been on my bag for two seasons. I'm by nature a somewhat controlling person when it comes to information, but learning to let go has taken a tremendous psychological weight off my shoulders. Tiger Woods plays quick practice rounds because he has so much confidence in Stevie Williams. Tiger told me early on that I needed to find my own formula, not just copy him or any other players, but some things just jump out at you. You don't see many guys in the top 10 who change caddies like shoes.

Tiger told me early on that I needed to find my own formula.'

09 Soak up your favorite player's rhythm.

As a junior I emulated Davis Love III. I was built like him, tall with long arms, and tried hard to copy his swing, especially that wide takeaway. I wore nothing but Polo, played the same equipment as he did, even mimicked his waggle. My dad would tape entire tournaments and edit them down so it was just a montage of DL III's shots. I would sit in my bedroom and watch those videos over and over. Whenever I was playing badly or was nervous the night before a big tournament, a session with those videos would let me soak up Davis' rhythm. You watch something over and over again, you'd be surprised how much it starts to show up in your game.

10 Life can't revolve around golf.

I used to think golf was everything, and so every time I scored badly I would be miserable. When your happiness depends entirely on how you play, that's putting way too much pressure on your game. All the best players have other things in their lives they can turn to when they want to get away. Take Kenny Perry, who restores old cars. Right now I have two young children, Molly Kate and Luke, so they're pretty much my only hobby. But someday I'd like to get into restoring cars, or something like that.