February 3, 2009

Timing Is Everything For Goydos

In an exclusive to Golf Digest Digital, Paul Goydos sits with Thomas Bonk at Torrey Pines for his first interview since the death of his ex-wife

Goydos says golf has never been a job for him. It's a hobby and a hobby has to be fun.

Goydos says golf has never been a job for him. It's a hobby and a hobby has to be fun.

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- He said he's ready to play golf again, but Paul Goydos isn't ready to talk about too much, at least not right now. The questions would be too personal, and besides, there are no answers that would satisfy him.

"I'm trying to protect my girls," he said Wednesday at Torrey Pines.

It's all still so raw. Just three weeks ago, Goydos was traveling back to Long Beach from the Sony Open in Honolulu when he learned that his ex-wife had died, leaving his teenaged daughters without the woman who was their mother.

He immediately withdrew from the Bob Hope and said he was taking a leave of absence from golf, but that ended once he stepped into the locker room at Torrey Pines.

Goydos hasn't been just a golfer for years. He was awarded full custody of daughters Chelsea, now 18, and Courtney, now 16, in 2004. The player acknowledged last year that Wendy Goydos had battled an addition to painkillers that led to their divorce. But his ex-wife's death, what caused it, and how such a loss has affected him and his daughters are not topics he's willing to discuss.

That may change, he said, maybe after he plays the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, or if he enters next week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Timing means everything, even if it's a mixture of the good and the very bad.

After working with swing coach Jamie Mulligan in his hometown of Long Beach, Goydos said he's as optimistic about his game as he has been in years. On the golf course at least, things are actually looking up. For the first time in his 16-year pro career, Goydos has packed his bag with 14 clubs from the same manufacturer, instead of mixing and matching. He's excited about his new TaylorMade R9 driver and he's pleased to be able to go out and play golf.

If there is a haven in Goydos' life, it is the golf course, and he knows it.

"I love playing golf and I'm fortunate enough to do it," Goydos said. "I'm always at home playing golf. It's my hobby."

And even in difficult times, Goydos has held on to his sense of humor. Mulligan, who Goydos has known for 30 years, also teaches pro John Merrick, John Mallinger and John Cook.

"He likes the Johns," Goydos said.

What Mulligan is emphasizing in his work with Goydos is that teaching is about learning. Goydos said it's not about someone telling you what to do, it's about learning how the golf swing works.

To get there, Goydos said he has changed his goals. He said he has to be more objective when he measures progress, and be clear about defining success in terms other than the money list.

"Are you getting better?" he said. "You have to have a little bit of, well, I'm not sure luck is the right word."

Maybe it isn't, but luck has been missing for Goydos for awhile now.

He turns 45 in June and owns two PGA Tour victories, although he barely missed another one last year when Sergio Garcia defeated him in a playoff at The Players. After that tournament, a member at his home course, Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, told him he looked like he had lost weight on TV. Goydos replied that on television, the camera adds 10 pounds.

"Another member said, 'What did they do, have five cameras on you?" Goydos cracked.

If Goydos can relate that story this week, his comeback is getting off to a good start. After all, it's hard to keep a good guy down when his favorite movie is "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" -- a guy who was actually a substitute teacher when he won his first tournament 17 years ago on the developmental Hogan (Nationwide) Tour.

But if his leave of absence has ended, his uneasy period continues, and he's not sure when it will end. Until then, Goydos is just going to play golf. And that's enough right now at Torrey Pines.

"Golf takes 30 minutes, everything else takes four hours," he said. "I'll have a great time walking down the fairway, telling stories. I'll have my 30 minutes of tournament golf, but I'm going to have my four hours of fun. And that's why I play this game."

Here's another reason: Last summer, he took Courtney with him to watch the British Open. Dad's a golfer, and even now, that's something he's glad to talk about.

Thomas Bonk is a Writer-at-Large for Golf Digest Digital.