Brian Gay’s playoff victory Sunday in the Humana Challenge on the Palmer Private course at PGA West in La Quinta, California, marked the end of a long hard slog to get better.
After two wins in 2009, he watched his earnings slowly slinking down. He was still above $1.0 million for 2010 and 2011, but you can tell when things are beginning to get away from you. Add to that that as his earnings were declining, his age was going up. Always well down the Driving Distance list (177 out of 191 players in 2012), he knew he had to do something that could make him more competitive.
So he sought the help of Grant Waite, a Kiwi transplant in Ocala, Florida, who played the Tour for twelve years and was always well known for his silky swing. It was his short game that left him. But that hasn’t stopped a number of Tour players like Mike Weir from seeking him out.
Gay is another happy customer:
Just over a year ago I went to Grant and my whole game’s been about accuracy and short game, and I’ve always been a short hitter on the Tour. And I felt like as I was getting older I’m only going to get shorter and shorter. So I kind of went to Grant initially to get his thoughts and to work on some stuff to try to hit the tee ball farther. Thought it would help my game.
And it was tough last year trying to play making those changes. I feel like it’s coming around. It’s helped me a lot and just was trying to get more efficient with my driver numbers to kind of max out my distance.
I’m hitting it I think I was about 10 yards longer on the stats last year. I think maybe a little bit more than that, 10 to 15 yards further. At the same [swing] speed.
There is nothing tougher than trying to make big changes to your swing while you’re trying to play competitively. He came into 2012 with a nice check at the Sony in Hawaii and a nice check to finish the year at Disney, but in between he only had one top-5 surrounded by 10 missed cuts in 28 tries:
It’s tough to go out and make changes and try to play on the Tour. The Tour’s hard enough, when you go out and you’re trying to do new stuff and trusting it. So it’s easy to kind of get on that downward spiral, if you will.
So it felt like a battle most of the year. I would have a top‑5 and — I actually started out decent last year, but the summer was long and tough, and I think Disney helped me a bunch. I played really good at Disney to end the year on a good note. And I just felt recharged and refocused to get off and have a great year this year.
The fact that he was able to get it together in a year’s time was pretty significant because the changes themselves were significant:
It was pretty significant, I think. A lot of the stuff…more with the woods and the tee ball was definitely a pretty big change. A lot of those things that they teach, I was already doing as far as my normal swing, but it was definitely a significant change off the tee.
The thing that helped him keep it together was that he understood that this transition was a process. You don’t just go get a lesson and see lasting results. You have to continue to nurture the seedling with constant practice and attitude in an effort to arrest any backsliding:
I think that everyone says it, you know, you’ve got to look at it as a process. It’s tough to do week‑to‑week out here, day‑to‑day and shot‑to‑shot, you know. Look, try to take as many positives as you can from every day, every round, every shot, every week. Try to get better and keep moving on.
And because he was able to do that, he shot 63 in the final round and held off Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth in a two-hole playoff to grab his fourth victory on the Tour.
The win itself was quite an accomplishment. But what he had to go through to make it happen makes it a true feat that he will never forget.