Like McIlroy, Stricker saw his game suffer, though he fell to greater depths and for a much longer time, even losing his tour card in the process. Doubt plagued him, the work he had put in to get to that point felt “meaningless” and the path back to the top was unclear. In Stricker’s case, chasing distance was one of his unwise deviations, but the overarching theme was the same.
“I realised that I was exerting too much of my time and energy trying to play golf like someone who I wasn’t,” he wrote.
Stricker had his own epiphany, returned to a former style of play (and perhaps of being), found happiness and entered the golden age of his career in the late 2000s, winning nine events in five years and rising as high as No.2 in the world.
“My advice to young golfers may be cliché,” he wrote, “but it’s still incredibly important: don’t try to fix something that isn’t broken. Golfers on the PGA Tour are at the highest level because they’ve stayed true to their game.”
And they fall off the top, to hear them tell it, because they fail to stay true. Brendon Todd doesn’t just have one of the tour’s greatest comebacks to his name – he has two of them. Twice, he fell so low in the world ranking that he was considering taking another job, and as recently as 2018 he had plans to meet with a financial adviser to talk about starting a fast-food franchise. When he lost his game, he really lost it, and like so many before him, he chased solutions anywhere. What changed things, finally, was a coach named Bradley Hughes whose task at its simplest was to return him to “normal”, and let the brilliant parts of his game shine.
The same is true for Harris English. A former University of Georgia Bulldog like Todd, English is a recent member of the victorious US Ryder Cup team and one of the best players in the sport. Only a few years ago, however, he’d fallen to 149th in the world after a promising start to his career, before making his own comeback journey. When asked to explain what changed, he credited his coach and, time and again throughout the year, returned to the explanation of “going back to what I did well”.
Having started with a scenario the recreational golfer can relate to, let’s end with another: have you ever given up the game for a while, either by choice or by necessity, and then returning after weeks or months or even years away? If so, you may have experienced another common phenomenon in your first time back, in which you prepare yourself to struggle, you expect to struggle, and you resign yourself to months of work to recapture your form… only to play far better than you could have dreamed.
It’s hard to know why this happens, but maybe it’s as simple as forgetting the accumulations of unwieldy knowledge that bogged you down and returning to a purer form of play that on some level, your body and mind can execute intuitively. For so many PGA Tour players, the process to regaining the lost heights is exactly the same – it takes years, but it’s no more complicated than rediscovering the truth, as players and as people, of who they really are.