Undercover Tour ProJune 6, 2018

The Battle Of Dumb Versus Smart

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An agent—not mine—once told me his secret for success was to recruit golfers who were "really smart or really stupid." Average intelligence, he believed, had a strong correlation with average careers. Implicit in his confiding this was that he held me in the former category.

Sometimes I wish I were in the latter. I don't believe there's a sport where more information is thrown at the athlete than golf. To have an unthinking nature can be a huge blessing. You can just disregard all the TrackMan and ShotLink data and go play. Of the top-125 players in the world, maybe 30 operate in this state of blissful ignorance, and there are at least four or five in the current top 20. The following is a tee-box interaction I overheard between one such player and his caddie, who's no Mensa candidate, either.

Player: "How far to carry that bunker?"

Caddie: "310."

Player: "But we're up a tee box from yesterday."

Caddie: "Oh, yeah ... 340. No way to carry it."

Now, my caddie and I make small arithmetic errors almost every week. It's a matter of the sheer volume of calculations we do. But come on. This duo eventually figured it out, but for pretty close to a minute they were 60 yards off.

Some guys don't understand their nicknames. One golfer, a really good player, had a last name that translated simply to another word in a major world language. Years transpired before he pulled someone aside and asked why people on tour called him that. I knew another player who carried two phones. He used one for his American email address and the other for his European email because he believed it was impossible to access both accounts from one device. Sometimes you wonder how these people make it through the day.

Of course, we all commit the little blunders that come with being road-bleary. I've flown home to the wrong airport and had to get an Uber to pick up my car. Almost every week someone forgets their golf shoes. I know players who've shown up at tournaments only to find they forgot to enter.

I think most of the "dumb" players are smart enough to have linked up with a caddie who really knows the game. In a way, they're brilliant for having turned their golf into a reactive, instinctual process. But if they didn't have someone telling them where to hit it and how hard, they wouldn't survive out here.

Overall, the tour is filled with more golfers who aced their SATs or came close. Lots of guys are just as clever as Bryson DeChambeau, or more so. They know everything there is to know about golf and will pore through stats to break down any course and devise a game plan. As everyone knows, Phil Mickelson is extremely bright. He just tends to express his ideas in unnecessarily complicated ways, so sometimes, it can feel forced. But if you're not wired like Mickelson or DeChambeau, and you try to imitate their cerebral approach to golf without truly possessing the bandwidth, it can be disastrous. You start overthinking every shot, and pretty soon you've lost what got you to the tour. It's sad how many guys have calculated their card away.

The tour isn't exactly overflowing with them, but there are players who are more than happy to get into a deep conversation—about the stock market, politics, philosophy—right in the middle of a tournament. Though when in doubt, I don't stray from the classics: football, beer and how many good-looking women happen to be in the gallery that day. I think the diverse cross-section of minds on tour speaks to what a beautiful game it is.

The agent I mentioned earlier, who targets only the ends of the intelligence spectrum, has a sound theory. Most players are wary of not being in the middle. But if I were an agent, I'd scout talent differently. I'd go to college or mini-tour events and watch how players held up on the last nine holes of a tournament. That's what really matters, and I've seen no link between brains and guts. — With Max Adler