Professionals used to talk about how golf was the only sport where you could lose most weeks and that was okay. Not anymore, because targeting certain victories has become an integral part of being the best, writes Mike Taylor.
The route to big-time success has been clearly mapped out and agents will do their utmost to get a young star on that path as early as possible. This grooming has produced a generation of golfers ready to take on the world straight out of college, and the best of them are able to manipulate their game to fire on cue.
They do this in two ways.
Firstly, they are able to produce magic on the stretch.
The top 10 players in the world can make birdies and eagles when the pressure gets going. Take a look at Dustin Johnson making eagle on the 15th at Crooked Stick this past weekend. He was prepared to make a three there long before he got to the tee box.
Jordan Spieth’s meltdown at The Masters earlier this year wasn’t because of nerves, it was a lapse in concentration. He knew what shot to play, but got too casual.
Preparing for the stretch actually starts on Thursday, when players begin to suss out the course and decipher which holes are gettable.
By Friday the low rounds appear, and then moving day comes around. With generous pins and some good course knowledge, these elite club-swingers take advantage of tracks that would put regular golfers to shame.
Sunday, with tight pins and huge pressure, is the final gauntlet. Anything within five shots of the lead is ‘go’ territory and the cream rises to the top.
Secondly, the best players schedule well.
Spieth’s slump began with an intense schedule and, even at 22 years old, he was unable to jet around the world and maintain his form. So the healthiest, youngest player wasn’t able to keep up, and that means nobody should be able to.
The experienced PGA Tour guys know where they’ll compete throughout the year and it’s not about family time, it’s about playing well in big tournaments.
Similarly, young players are learning to make their game work at crucial times. Bryson DeChambeau, the much-talked-about American youngster, fell off the scene after the US Open. He returned with a victory on the Web.com Tour on Sunday, thereby securing his PGA Tour card for 2016/17.
In a game that already takes high levels of skill and dedication, being great now also requires timing your streaks.
At present there is no leader of the pack. World number one Jason Day is the best iron player, number two Johnson is the longest hitter, and number three Spieth is the best putter. Behind them are superbly talented golfers able to bid for the top spot, but to get there they have to peak at the right time. That’s professional golf right now.