Heath Slocum had a tough 2013. He got into 9 events on the PGA Tour, missed 3 cuts and made $90,796. He augmented his playing schedule with 15 outings on the Web.com Tour where he missed 5 cuts and made just $18,132 in the regular season. Fortunately, he played in the three Finals tournaments and made $54,000. But still.
This from a guy who was a three-time All American at South Alabama, got to the Tour in 2001 with a 3-win battlefield promotion from the Web.com Tour, won 4 PGA Tour events and made $15.5 million in the process.
His 2013 was so out of character, the media asked him if he had been injured?
“I wish I could say yes but, no, I wasn’t. Kind of played that way (laughter).”
His 2014 hasn’t been much either; he finds himself all the way back at 158 on the FedExCup points list. He’ll need a 3rd to get into The Playoffs.
But now he finds himself tied for the lead at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro with Scott Langley. They are at 10-under after they both shot a pair of 65s in the first two rounds. They have a one-shot lead over Brian Stuard, Nick Watney, Martin Laird and Andrew Svoboda. But this was kind of the way he planned it:
“I came into this week trying to create a little bit of momentum for me to whether I could somehow get myself into The Playoffs or into the Web Finals.”
“I wanted to kind create some momentum because I feel like it’s been a couple years where it’s been rough but I feel like I’ve made lot of progress this year and played actually some of the best golf at times that I have but I haven’t put them together.”
“Like my putting is better, my iron game is better and I just haven’t put it all together. Last few days it’s all kind of clicked. Again, that’s kind of what I was looking forward to, to put something together just to move forward.”
What is it that’s led to his downward spiral? In the moment, he probably didn’t know. But as time goes on, you start to look around to see what it might be. You can never be certain, but he has a working theory:
“You know, I wish I could answer that. It’s actually come up lately that I’ve made some cuts by the skin of my teeth when, you know, I played some solid back-9s to do that. I don’t know.”
“I think maybe I just finally have let go and that’s been one of my biggest things, sometimes it’s just getting out of my own way, just stop trying to do too much.”
What’s interesting is that here we have a 4-time winner on the Tour — no fluke that — and when his sensory awareness of what was working begins to fade, he starts mining for new swing thoughts just like the rest of us. But it turns out that’s fools’ gold:
“That’s been a big part of the last few years where I haven’t played as well. I just get more in my own way. Then I’ll continue to try different things or try to find like the secret or the magic when sometimes you just have to take a step back and just go — have fun with it. Go play.”
“I know how to do it. I’ve done it before. This week I kind of just — I had a good week of practice last week where I kind of let go. I said, ‘You know what, It’s all here. See if you can’t go play golf and enjoy it.’ And I mean sometimes just going and enjoy yourself and you play some of your best golf.”
So about this “getting out of your own way” thing. Easy to say, but just how would you go about such a thing? Turns out, it takes a village.
“It’s more of a mental thing, absolutely that yeah. Sometimes your swing doesn’t feel good but then you can — your brain will process it and start searching, trying to find that feeling and then before long — physically you’re probably still all right but mentally you’re still kind of searching for that validation that you’re trying to give yourself.”
“I’ve had a lot of help lately from a lot of people that just trying to get myself just to let go and go out and enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Slocum is lucky. He’s had quite a cast of characters helping him along the path to freeing himself up:
“I’ve got a coach that — swing coach that is a big part of that and my wife as well, she’s awesome, that she understands that kind of part and, hey, she knows me well enough to just see to tell me, ‘Hey look, just go play golf.'”
“I’ve got a lot of people helping me along. So, I mean [sports psychologist] Brett McCabe, [swing coach] Mark Blackburn and my wife. That’s the thing. I’ve got a team around me starting with even a trainer, Steve Adams, that’s another positive influence and then my caddy, GW.”
The value of assembling this team is that it’s not just one voice that you might dismiss from time to time, it’s five people speaking in one voice. That sort of unified wisdom tends to cast doubt aside and keeps you on the path.
“Again, you’ve got that kind of positive energy surrounding you and all telling you kind of the same thing and helping you get there. It’s still a work in progress but, you know, I’ve gotten two days under my belt. I will say, no matter win, lose or draw I will go have fun the next two days.”
“I do miss this feeling of being in contention. So, not being in contention for awhile I’m going to savor it.”
The last time he got himself jammed up like this in 2009, he had fallen all the way to 124 on the FedExCup points list. That just barely got him into The Barclays, the first for the four Playoffs tournaments…which he won.