It’s simple advice and along with “be kind to others,” and “don’t trust the airport sushi late on a Sunday night,” it’s among the most valuable bits of wisdom we are offered.
If you’re a khakis-and-white-shirt kind of guy, be that guy. Leave the tight pants and fuchsia shirts to the more daring.
If you don’t like single malts, don’t drink them just because some seemingly cool people believe they are the nectar of the gods. Stick with your light beer.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the PGA Tour where being yourself may be the toughest part about playing professional golf because no matter how good you are, no matter how far you hit it, no matter how many logos clutter the sleeves and collars of your shirts, staying true to yourself is tested on the practice tee every day.
We were given another reminder of the sometimes-fragile nature of golfers – professional and 16-handicappers alike – when Rory McIlroy admitted at the Players Championship that he had been lured into “chasing speed” after seeing what Bryson DeChambeau did in winning the U.S. Open, clubbing mighty Winged Foot into submission.
Because it is an unconquerable game, the quest to be better stretches on forever. It’s a bit like trying to find a corner in a round room.
“Chasing speed” is the new trendy phrase in the game, the way announcers now talk about “scoring the basketball” as if they are trying to score something else.
There are two levels to McIlroy’s admission: One, despite being among the longest hitters in the game, he felt what he had wasn’t necessarily enough and it created more issues than it remedied. And, two, he may not be wrong.
When DeChambeau is posting videos of the ball speed he generates – the higher the speed, the more distance the ball goes for those of us who fear equations – it can produce envy, concern and doubt. When a player like McIlroy goes chasing a few extra yards despite averaging 314 yards off the tee last season (he’s up to 319 this season), it can make the guy hitting it “only” 295 feel discouraged.
The tour is littered with stories of good players who thought they needed more distance only to sabotage their careers. Luke Donald comes to mind.
It’s a delicate and dangerous line, chasing more. Dustin Johnson never had to chase distance. It came naturally. He chased consistency and found it when he completely rebuilt his game after getting to the PGA Tour, learning to hit a power fade that helped turn him into the No. 1 player in the world.
“My goal is to hit it in the fairway, not to hit it far,” said Johnson, who is very good at both.
Some players aren’t tempted the way others might be. Has there been a more natural player in recent memory than Bubba Watson? His technique may not fit the classic mold but he’s an artist with power who has remained true to himself.
Jim Furyk is another one. No one teaches the Furyk method but there haven’t been many better than him. If he could be given another 20 yards off the tee (he’s averaging a career-high 287 yards this season) he’d take it but not at the expense of altering his golf DNA.
“Everyone on my team just tries to make sure that my mind doesn’t wander too much and I don’t try and do anything too crazy,” Xander Schauffele said.
“I speak for most of us, that we’re always chasing perfection and we always try and do everything so perfect that you can kind of go down a weird path or a beaten path where it’s sort of not very fruitful. I think it’s my team’s biggest job to sort of keep my mind occupied on what I’m kind of good at and away from trying to change my swing or do anything too crazy at once.”
“I’ve chased distance every day of my life.”
No one has tinkered more than Pádraig Harrington, who’s never met a swing thought he hasn’t considered or a tweak he hasn’t tried. He has seen DeChambeau and Tony Finau post evidence of 200-mph ball speed (every mph in swing speed equates to 2 yards) and, at age 49, he’s still chasing them.
“I’ve chased distance every day of my life,” Harrington said. “I see the addiction of chasing speed and I see these young guys – not young guys, medium-aged guys go out there, if you’re chasing speed and you hit a good drive down the fairway, you’re very happy, but you’re standing there thinking, I wonder could I hit it 5 yards further, I wonder what speed that was, I wonder would it have been this or that.
“There’s no satisfaction in it. I would thoroughly recommend to a young guy to do it early so that he comes out with speed and never has to worry about it.”
That from a man who admits he doesn’t live by his own advice.
Like balata balls and 1-irons, the old “drive for show, putt for dough” adage has become outdated. Don’t believe it? Consider this:
The top five players in strokes gained putting on the PGA Tour last season were Denny McCarthy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andrew Putnam, Kris Ventura and Kevin Na.
The top seven in strokes gained tee to green were Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, Sergio García, Collin Morikawa, McIlroy and Schauffele.
Webb Simpson knows what got him to the PGA Tour and what has won him a U.S. Open and a Players Championship – accuracy. He keeps the ball in play and he’s exceptional at distance control.
He also understood it would benefit him to hit it a little longer. Simpson embarked on an effort to gain distance and his 296-yard average off the tee last season was 8 yards longer than the previous year and it made a difference.
“The Phoenix Open last year, I would not have won had I not picked up about 10 yards from the year before,” Simpson said. “There are a few bunkers I carried that I couldn’t carry the year before so I was in the fairway instead of in the bunker and I was able to make birdies.
“I have to stick to what’s gotten me to this level but I’m not going to close the door on trying to get longer.”
What was it Arnold Palmer said in a commercial a few years back?
“Swing your swing.”
Sometimes it’s not that easy to do.
Top: Rory McIlroy, right, with Bryson DeChambeau