Nowhere to go but up

The worst golfer statistically on the DP World Tour in 2021 is off to a better start in 2022

January 27, 2022

Andrea Pavan had a T-22 showing a week ago in Abu Dhabi and posted a opening 67 in Dubai to put himself in contention after Day 1.

Warren Little

DUBAI — You might remember Andrea Pavan, who just shot five-under 67 in the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic. Then again you might not. Even in plain sight, he’s been all but invisible for a while now. Almost ever since his victory in the 2019 BMW International Open in Germany—his second on the now DP World Tour—the Italian has struggled. Which might be the understatement of this or any other century.

Consider the numbers. Pavan arrived in Dubai for this week’s Desert Classic ranked 1,127th in the world. That’s not bad, considering he was 1,664th seven days earlier, a dire situation somewhat alleviated by his T-22 finish in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. But it’s not great either. At the end of 2019, the Dallas-based 32-year-old (he played on the Texas A&M’s NCAA Championship team in 2009) was the 74th best golfer on the planet.

Pavan’s decline was swift and definitely not pretty. In 2020 his average score on tour was 75.37. And last year he was even worse. Ranked 200th (last) in that category, his 75.69 was almost exactly five shots higher than the tour average.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Pavan was also 200th in driving accuracy, hitting just over one-in-three of the fairways he aimed at. Or that he pulled up 186th in driving distance, his 280.47-yard average more than 16 yards short of the median figure on tour. Or that he was 200th in greens in regulation. He hit less than half of the putting surfaces in the correct number of shots when his average competitor was finding them two out of three times. Or that he was 117th in putting when he did hit greens.

You get the picture. This was a man who had lost his way in a golf sense, a man in almost total despair. Speaking to this Golf Digest last July at the Scottish Open (where he again missed the cut), Pavan was good enough to explain what was going on.

“It all started at the end of 2019, when I began to hit a few foul balls off the tee,” he said then. “It was always not the best part of my game ,and I was losing it way to the right. It felt like something not good was coming, and it snowballed. Then I had a wrist problem. That didn’t help because it made me more afraid of releasing the club.

“I’m struggling off the tee and the long game is not there,” he continued. “It’s tough because the tee shot is the first shot and if you hit it right or left, you feel you are scrambling all day. It is tiring. And it’s tough when you have doubts, but this game can sometimes be like this. You just have to try and stop yourself digging an even bigger hole. But, when you play bad for so long, your confidence is hurt.”

Things clearly didn’t get much better over the rest of the 2021 season, which ended with Pavan taking a well-advised break from competition. But not from golf. At home in Dallas, he and coach Corey Lundberg (an associate of Cameron McCormick, who works with Jordan Spieth), broke down his problems.

“After the Scottish Open, I did have a bit of good play,” Pavan says. “But it was in the middle of the season, and I didn’t feel like it was a time to take time off and work on some of the things that got away from me. It was mainly my driving. But it had gotten to the point where I was having trouble with just about any club off the tee. It felt like I was sliding ahead of the ball at impact, which left me with no chance to square the face.”

Pavan said he took three months off from tournaments, “and maybe a month-and-a-half away from social media” to clear his head and reset. Since then, good things seem to be happening. Pavan is far from claiming “I’m back,” but it is clear that his technical and mental fog is slowly lifting. One week before he made the long trip to the Middle East, he made nine birdies in one round at a mini-tour event in the Dallas-area.

“My recent play is a good sign,” he said after his six-birdie, one-bogey opening-round at the Emirates Club. “As for tomorrow, I see no reason why I shouldn’t keep playing like this. I’m just enjoying the fact that I’m walking onto tees and setting-up over shots with a calmer feeling. I’m managing to control the ball. When you do it once under the gun, it gets easier the next time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. Hitting good shots again and again.

“Overall, it feels like there something good is happening,” he added. “If you can make nine birdies on any course, you are doing something right. The signs are there. Ask any player who has gone through a big slump. It’s all about seeing those signs and making little steps forward. I feel like this week is another one of those. The tournament is clearly not finished, but I feel good.”