Mar 01, 2011 No Comments by


You may remember I’m a big fan of Lanny Bassham, the Olympic shooting gold medalist and mental management coach. While recently re-reading his book, With Winning in Mind, I recalled a conversation during which he told me his journey to becoming a champion really gained traction when he set out to identify the common traits of those who had already achieved greatness. It started me thinking about the similarities amongst my friends at Dye Preserve and elsewhere who play golf for a living and continue to pursue the game at its highest levels.

What really makes these golfers better? What keeps them grinding it out year after year? What, if any, are the common traits of those who have had success on Tour and what continues to drive those on the fringes?

I discovered that those who play golf for a living—whether rookie or journeyman, tall or short, gym rat or couch potato—are all eternal optimists. They have faith in themselves and hope for their futures in golf. They’re consistently just one event, one swing thought, one hot putting week away from doing something really special. They’re Tom Watson just a few feet away from winning his sixth Claret Jug at the age of sixty. It’s Fran Quinn punching his ticket from the Nationwide Tour to the PGA Tour after seventeen years of “being close.” Beyond that common characteristic, the differences in background, technique, physical strength, mental approach are as different as Saturday and Sunday hole locations at the Masters and as individual as the swings of Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson.

So what else is in the secret sauce? What’s the recipe that produces the sweet taste of success? Observers, teachers, armchair quarterbacks speculate, but I’d pay closer attention to what the players themselves believe to be the difference. So I asked some PGA Tour friends what helped them break through and what keeps them chasing the dream.

British Open champion and multiple PGA Tour winner Ian Baker-Finch told me the chase began out of necessity. He had to make a living and he loved golf. His greatest passion was playing the game, experimenting with his technique, copying swings he admired. It’s what drove him to practice relentlessly, to “tinker and tweak” his golf swing and “build routines”—strip them down and do it all over. He built upon the small successes. Each small victory led to something bigger and with each accomplishment came greater confidence—a steady push forward until he found himself standing in the winner’s circle of golf’s oldest championship.

Rick Price, a Dye Preserve member and tournament golf journeyman, has been grinding it out for a long time—mini-tours, the Canadian Tour, Nationwide Tour and 19 attempts at Q-School before finally making it to the PGA Tour in 2009 by finishing 12th on the Nationwide Tour money list for the 2008 season. After a dissapointing 2009 PGA Tour campaign, Rick finds himself back on the Nationwide Tour, but he remains undeterred.  For Rick, it simply never occurred to him to do anything else but play golf. Family and golf consume him. His favorite hobby is his vocation, so he practices, he plays, he improves. He “loves every aspect of the Tour” and enjoys the work, so perserverance fits nicely in his business plan.

Olin Browne’s take is as straightforward as the man himself. The three-time PGA Tour winner and Champions Tour rookie says he truly enjoys the game and continues to have a good time, even when he’s not playing his best. “I understand there’s going to be a lot of tough days out there. I’m not afraid of bad shots—I don’t like them, but I enjoy what I do for a living. I still enjoy preparing and learning things that make me better. I believe I can win before each and every tournament.”

I can say this about Olin, as we’ve been close friends for almost twenty five years: It wasn’t necessarily an innate talent for golf that brought him along, it was hard work and listening to his heart that kept him chasing the dream. You see, it’s always easy to hear the voices of those saying this or that is “too difficult” or “look at the talent you’d be up against—why beat your head against a wall?” Especially in professional sports and particularly when you’ve had no pedigree as a junior and/or amateur athlete.

It’s the siren song that plays relentlessly in the minds of all golfers who know they’ll do better the next time out. For golfers at the highest levels of the game, it seems their aspirations are to fulfill a personal challenge to live up to their full potential—whatever it takes, wherever it takes them: The PGA Tour, a championship, a major? They live the words of George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are, and say ‘why?’ – I dream things that never were, and say ‘why not?’” Why not? Indeed.

Randy Grills is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Duxbury Yacht Club in Duxbury, MA, and Teaching Professional at The Dye Preserve in Jupiter, FL. He is endorsed by The Avid Sportsman.

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About the author

Randy Cavanaugh, co-founder of The Avid Sportsman, became a Quarter Century Club Member of the PGA of America in 2007. Randy has USA, European, Asian and South American PGA Tours experience and has taught thousands of lessons. When not on the course, he often can be found fly-fishing in shallow saltwater.
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