In the American summer of 2018, I received a no-frills e-mail from Brendon Todd. “Hey, Bradley. I’ve played on tour, and I’m having a bit of a struggle.”
I didn’t quite know who he was because my time on tour ended before he made a name for himself. I looked him up and discovered that in 2014 he won on the PGA Tour, something I was never able to accomplish. I also discovered that “a bit of a struggle” was an understatement. Brendon had missed 34 of 37 cuts and dropped outside the top 2,000 in the World Golf Ranking.
He came to Holly Tree Country Club in Simpsonville, South Carolina, where I teach, and told me he was dealing with the “full-swing yips”. He had this wild shot in his bag – a dead block that would go 40 or 50 metres right of his target, usually with a long iron. It’s obviously hard to play elite golf with that shot, and not knowing when it would appear – sometimes once or twice a round, sometimes five or six – would lead to the double miss in which he would over-compensate and send one miles left. He was, simply put, a broken golfer.
Before watching him hit a shot, I had an idea of what might be going wrong in his swing. Brendon is very tall, and he had been told to get the clubface shut at the top and turn hard on the way through – similar to how Dustin Johnson swings. But he clearly wasn’t able to turn quickly enough, so his club would get extremely stuck, producing the right ball. We decided to revamp his swing and get him back to the feels he had when he was playing well. I won’t get too bogged down in swing mechanics, but I wanted him to get the club feeling open and then “slam it shut” on the way down.
What Brendon did next took commitment – and, in hindsight, it worked to perfection. After our first lesson, I suggested he would be best off taking time away from hitting balls and instead focus on ingraining the new movements into muscle memory. He took a few training aids into his basement and rehearsed what we had been working on over and over and over. By doing so without worrying about where the ball would go, he was able to focus on the new moves until they became second nature.
All golfers, no matter their skill level, are susceptible to a confidence crisis. The game feels harder than ever, and you’re trying everything you can to turn your fortunes around. The temptation when going through one of these slumps is to try to play your way out of it. You come to the course or the practice range with a new swing thought every day. You tell yourself, This time will be different. If you could just hit one ball flush, you’ll find your swing and start playing well again.
Even the best players in the world are not immune from this type of impatient thinking. You’ll see pros grinding on the range as the sun sets, searching for something that will turn their fortunes around. The problem is, hitting ball after ball can do more harm than good – and sometimes the best way to progress is to take a step back. The problem with hitting a bunch of balls when working through changes is that you get too concerned with ball flight. When the ball doesn’t fly the way you want, you resort to Band-Aid fixes to try to straighten it out. This might work in the short-term, but it will prevent you from committing to the changes that will leave a lasting impact on your game.
After spending a week working in his home, Brendon called to say he was considering sticking with that plan for a few more weeks.
“Go for it,” I said. I also have 20-handicappers who have chosen this route. When fundamentally altering the way you swing a club, the best work tends to happen away from the golf course. In addition to the mechanical benefits, it will break up the monotony of your struggles and give you a fresh, optimistic start.
Brendon’s first tournament after emerging from the basement was the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School in Mobile, Alabama. He missed advancing by a few shots, but he shot 63 in the final round. Something had clicked. The next summer, he played well enough to secure a PGA Tour card for the 2019-2020 season. Then magic happened. Brendon won for the first time in more than five years at the Bermuda Championship. In his next start, at the Mayakoba Classic, he won again. He went from missing 34 of 37 cuts to winning back-to-back PGA Tour events in just 16 months.
The lesson? Although it might seem counter-intuitive, the best way to escape a slump is often stepping away from hitting shots. I can’t guarantee you will have as dramatic and as quick a turnaround as Brendon’s, but if you’re truly lost on the course, what do you have to lose? – with Daniel Rapaport
Illustration by Santino Calvo; Hughes: PGA TOUR