News & ToursAugust 3, 2015

They say golf is an individual sport, but these major winners say it's really all about team

Editor's Note: This story originally ran in the Aug. 3, 2015 issue of Golf World.

After Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson won their majors this year, you heard them credit "team."

It's not like the days when Jack Nicklaus relied only on the eyes of instructor Jack Grout and the guiding hand of wife Barbara. Or going back to the generation before that, when Ben Hogan took deep pride in self-reliance. The old guys never said "We." They said "Me."

While still only the player hits the shots and makes the putts, the fractional difference that leads to excelling at 21st-century tour golf could be provided by what Johnson calls the "foundational trusses" of having a team. Johnson believes it's a crucial part of how a 39-year-old non-prototype player coming off the mini-tours can own two majors and be on the cusp of a Hall of Fame career.

Related: 13 Things You Didn't Know About Zach Johnson

"There are so many levels to it," Johnson said last week from his home in St. Simons Island, Ga. "You have the mental side, you have the physical side and you have the spiritual side as far as I'm concerned. If one is out of balance, it can filter in to the others, and things can go off kilter."

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Johnson's 10-person team includes his wife, swing coach, fitness coach, sport psychologist, chiropractor/nutritionist, caddie, manager, statistician, financial advisor and spiritual guide. Their first summit was 2006, a year before Zach won the Masters. The focus was on wedge practice, because Johnson ranked 182nd in par-5 scoring. He birdied 11 of 16 par-5s at Augusta National by laying-up and using his wedge.

"One of the keys is open communication, both not being afraid to say something or accepting criticism and healthy debate," Johnson said of the interaction process. "All my guys don't mind speaking up and unleashing it, or getting healthy criticism back at them. The trust of it is what keeps it gelling."

Related: How Jordan Spieth Lost The Slam

Spieth doesn't have as many people on his payroll, but was quick to say after slipping on the green jacket and hoisting the U.S. Open trophy at Chambers Bay, "It's a team win, it's a family win."

The synthesis between swing coach Cameron McCormick and performance coach Damon Goddard might not seem to have much to do with Jay Danzi managing Spieth's career, but in a way it does. Goddard and McCormick recommend rest as much as they do practice and workout sessions. With Jordan as the CEO of "Team Spieth" or "Spieth Enterprises," it then comes down to him making the call. "Jordan talks about team probably more than anybody in the game," Danzi says. "This is his thing."

Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and every other top-10 player have similar models. McIlroy had to rebuild his team with family, friends and close confidants after breaking from Horizon Sports in 2013. It was around that time Day's team had a heart to heart with him about the need to work harder, which has led to his recent run. "At the end of the day, he is the owner and the star quarterback," says Day's manager, Bud Martin. "I would refer to myself as the general manager."

The man credited with bringing the modern team concept to golf is Ben Crane's manager, Tommy Limbaugh, a football coach in the SEC before transitioning to golf in 2009. "I wanted to get all on one page, so that it all works together," Limbaugh said. "That's why I use the term oneness.' Like one heartbeat."

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