• Alistair Tait

One bad golf swing from madness


Finally, proof of what some of us have thought for a long time: many of those who play golf at the highest level are “psychopaths.”


That’s not me coming up with that word, but one who plays at the highest level, one who has major championship silverware in his trophy cabinet.


Asked if he’d ever consider a career as a golf coach once his playing days are over, 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner (pictured) was unequivocable:

“These guys are psychopaths, man. No. Never. First off, there’s no money in it, and second off, dealing with tour players is a nightmare. You don’t want to be part of it. That’s just fact. Ask any of the teachers.”

I have asked teachers about working with top players. It can, indeed, be a nightmare. Often the teachers are just one missed green from being fired. But then most of the people they teach seem to be just one bad swing from madness.


Pete Cowen, for many the world’s best coach, is on record as saying tour pros are among the most miserable people he’s ever met. Here’s what Cowen said in Thomas Bjorn and Michael Calvin’s excellent book Mind Game:

“I spend my share of time around miserable millionaires. If you assume tour players are unimaginably happy and content, I assure you that is not the case. Many are, but most aren’t. They are healthy, rich and living the dream, but something in them – the perfectionist tendencies, perhaps – lead them to not being happy people.
“When you think about it, there are only two things in life that are essential: food and shelter. Beyond that, it’s all window dressing. A new iPhone? New car? Bigger house? You’ve got to be kidding. If there’s a fact of life I see hit home on an almost daily basis, it’s that money and fame do not bring happiness.”

An apt quote in a book that begins with Bjorn looking into the mirror and asking:

“Why are you crying?”

The late Bob Torrance worked with many of Europe’s best. He was aware many of the guys he was coaching were only a shanked pitch shot from a white coat that ties up at the back.

“He’s going to end up in a rubber room.”

Torrance once said that about three-time major winner Padraig Harrington. The Scot coached Harrington to his three major victories, but was sometimes driven to distraction by Harrington’s penchant for new swing theories.


An equipment representative once found out just how inquisitive Harrington was about the golf swing when he stayed over at Harrington’s house. Said representative had to find the nearest point of relief in the wee small hours. As he was walking back to his bedroom, he could hear the click of clubface on ball. Upon discovery, he found Harrington hitting balls in his indoor studio, practising in pyjamas and bare feet at 3am.


Harrington said he’d been lying awake thinking about an aspect of his swing and just thought he’d try it out.


The need to tinker with what works can lead players down roads with dead ends.


While Zimbabwe’s Tony Johnstone was still on the European Tour, he once admitted to me he’d finally stopped reading instruction in golf magazines. I asked him why he ever did in the first place considering he’d won four European Tour events, including beating Nick Faldo at Wentworth to win the 1992 Volvo PGA Championship, Europe’s biggest tournament.


One of the most affable guys you’ll ever meet off the golf course, Johnstone was known to lose his rag on more than one occasion, driven almost to distraction by trying to conquer a game that can’t be conquered.


Johnstone isn’t alone. You don’t have to look far to find examples of just how maddening this game can be. Check out YouTube for Erik van Rooyen’s meltdown on the 17th tee of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course during the second round of the PGA Championship.


It’s amazing Cameron Tringale didn’t suffer a breakdown at Kiawah, too. Tringale shot 70 in the opening round to be three shots off the lead. He was well in contention after 11 holes of his second round. He played Kiawah’s front nine in 2-under-par 34, birdied the 11th to move to 5-under and appeared to be heading for a realistic look at winning his first major championship. However…


...after consecutive pars at the 12th and 13th holes, Tringale went 6, 4, 10, 7, 5 – double bogey, par, quintuple bogey, quadruple bogey, bogey – to limp home in 48 shots for an 82 and miss the cut by three shots.


No wonder these guys are just one bad golf swing from madness.


And we think we’re having a bad day when we keep leaving putts short of the hole…..


#JustSaying: “I believe you know something about a game called Golf. Some people here object to it being called a game, and prefer to describe it a science. I should term it a disease, or even an epidemic.” Anonymous letter to Golf Illustrated magazine in 1901

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