John Catlin came to a realization last summer. Then he added a daily routine to fix it.
After an underwhelming spring season, Catlin decided he needed to elevate his play around the green to take his overall game to the next level. So every day, the New Mexico junior was in a bunker, in the rough, or somewhere working on his short game.
Suffice it to say, his diligence his paying off. Following a successful fall season, Catlin claimed his first collegiate title last week at the Arizona Intercollegiate. Through six events now in the 2011-12 season, Catlin has posted a 70.17 stroke average, down from 74.1 last season.
Catlin credits extensive short-game practice with his hometown coach, Eric Pollard of Sacramento, Calif., over the summer. But Lobos coach Glen Millican sees a more complete all-around adjustment in his top performer.
"Every area of his game has been a lot sharper," said Millican, whose squad started the season unranked but ended the fall No. 23 in the Golf World/Nike Golf men's coaches' poll thanks to Catlin's efforts. "[His short game] alone isn't going to cause a guy to leap from one level of play to the next. Satisfying to see him go through the progression in my eyes, as good as he's been playing, I think he can still play better, and continue to do what he's doing better."
Catlin fired a four-under-par 67 in the final round at Arizona National GC to come back from a two-stroke deficit and take the title. Some local knowledge also helped Catlin's chances—his parents own a timeshare on the grounds of the Tucson course, which he's played an estimated 25-30 times.
In addition to adding more short-game shots, the Carmichael, Calif., native has also improved his ability to finish off a tournament. His closing 67 was the second straight event he's posted that score in the final round, and the 10th round of par or better in his last 11 after breaking 70 only three times last spring.
"I've learned how to close them out the right way," he said. "Just from playing the tournament two previous rounds in tournament condition, I just know the course and go out there and shoot well."
And Catlin hopes to continue that heading into the spring after finishing no worse than 11th place in five events, with his worst result ironically coming on the Lobos' home course.
"I see a guy who really believes in himself," Millican said. "He believes in everything he does as a person, and everything he does as a golfer on and off the course. He looks like a guy who's very comfortable with what he has and what he has to do.
"And if he takes care of what he's capable of doing, he's not trying to do anything more than what he's capable of doing."