The vast majority of golfers are born tinkerers. The way the game is, with complex and delicate mechanics, it’s a perfect storm for the paranoid.
No matter how successful and clear-minded the golfer, the temptations to change are everywhere.
When a slump last months into years – for some souls weeks into months – the tinkering begins. Lying in wait on every range and putting green on the big tours are people selling what they swear is a Golfing Excalibur that will solve any ills.
Some of these are snake-oil salesmen, some genuine problem solvers. The question should be – is there really a problem to be solved?
Jordan Spieth should always be among the favourites for the Masters. He won the tournament and was second twice in the space of three years from 2014, and an overhanging branch at the 18th cost him at least another second place more recently.
Spieth has been a tortured soul in recent months, we’ve heard. From the Open at Birkdale in 2017 to the Valero Texas Open on Sunday is an extraordinary amount of time to go without a single win for a player of his ability, supposedly.
That would be enough, but Jordan is also among the most popular figures in the game, thoughtful, humble and genuinely likeable. As his form clearly picked up again this season, there was a definite longing from much of the golfing world to see him win again.
The Texan is back on top. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/H5FmPLDXl0
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 4, 2021
In truth, Spieth’s struggles were all relative – during his “epochal” slump, of course, he led the Open at Carnoustie on the final day and had that charge at Augusta. Golf being golf, there are times when it doesn’t all fall into place, even for Tiger Woods.
Thankfully, Jordan has stuck with the girl he brought to the dance (his wife Annie is his childhood sweetheart, so that figures).
He didn’t change anything outwardly, despite the multitude of calls to do so. Michael Geller, his caddie, is still there. Cameron McCormick is still his coach. The clubs are basically the same. He’s still in Dallas Cowboys blue on Sundays.
It was all good enough for him to be lights-out incredible in 2015. He’s still only 27.
Rory’s searching for something that isn’t missing
It makes me wonder about another thoughtful and likeable player who has enjoyed great success, Rory McIlroy. It’s now getting on to seven years since he won his fourth major. No-one expected it would take this long for a fifth.
Again, Rory’s struggles are relative; he’s been World No 1 multiple times, won FedEx Cups, tour titles galore, never seems to be far off the top ten in any event. But tiny outliers, rare rounds in the high 70s like at the Open at Portrush and the Players recently get far more attention.
As we noted a few weeks ago, Rory admits he got side-tracked chasing distance when he didn’t need to. One hoped he’d go back to what made him great and just accept the fates have been cruel at the majors.
Yet now he’s changed coach for the first time. While he’s gone to arguably the best, Yorkshire’s Pete Cowen, I can’t be the only one concerned.
It smacks of desperation when it doesn’t need to be. A prolonged spell of tinkering is just going to stall him – he’s really not that far off it now.
If what he had was good enough for him to be the most consistent golfer on the planet, like Jordan, he shouldn’t change it.
It would be unforgivable of me not to note in T2G the passing at the weekend of my very dear friend and colleague Jock MacVicar.
“The Doyen” covered golf for the Daily Express in Scotland for just short of 60 years, incredibly. At nearly 84, he was still battering out his weekly column and deftly finding his way about Zoom and Teams. Sadly, the ailments that plagued him since he fell ill at the Ryder Cup in Paris in 2018 finally took their toll.
Jock was in the job so long, senior golfers could remember him covering them in the Scottish Boys’ Championship. Every Scots golfer of note for six decades and many from further afield – Tom Watson was particularly fond of him – knew and trusted Jock.
No-one took greater delight in Scottish successes. The rise of his fellow man of Argyll Robert MacIntyre in recent times was of great pride to him.
Personally, I remember most his kindness when I first signed up to this beat, and so many dinners, fine wine and great whisky shared over nearly 30 years.
The biggest family a man could hope for
Jock was an only child, and never married. He had no family, in the strict sense.
After he fell ill in France, my colleague Martin Dempster and I eventually went back over to bring him home. Hundreds of messages of concern and goodwill flowed into our phones all the way back to Scotland.
They were from Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie, Stevie Gallacher, Marc Warren, Richie Ramsay. Professionals and amateurs, officials, colleagues and acquaintances, admirers and rivals, friends from Europe, America, Australia, India and beyond.
They were part of the family of golf, and they cared for Jock as much as any family would. He was a lucky man, and we were lucky to be his friend.