McGladrey Classic: Four co-leaders and how they got there

The McGladery Classic is underway at the Seaside Course in Sea Island, Georgia, and we have four tied at the top after shooting 5-under 65s: Brian Harmon, Michael Thompson, Erik Compton and Will MacKenzie. They have a one-shot lead over eight players that include Chesson Hadley, last year’s Rookie of the Year.

Brain Harmon lives at Sea Island and loves that he gets to sleep in a little longer, presumably because he doesn’t have to commute from a hotel. He won the John Deere Classic last season for his first win. So now he has to manage expectations for this year:

“Yeah, I feel like that’s golf in a nutshell: hard work and managing expectations. Obviously after you win, you feel invincible for a little while and feel like you ought to win every week. But it just doesn’t work like that. There are so many factors that go into it. So work hard, do your best and stay patient. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Michael Thompson won the 2013 Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens. It was his first win. But aside from that it was a bit of a struggle missing 11 of 22 cuts. He did finish T8 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (Doral) and Jack’s Memorial Tournament: 

“My putter was hot. My speed was just about perfect today and when I got myself in the fairway, I usually gave myself a good chance to make those, so when your putter’s hot, you’re going to make those.”

“So I’d say that on 60% of my shots I was committed to and hit very nicely. The other 40 weren’t so great, but that’s how golf goes and I’ll go work on it and try to figure it out for the weekend.”

Thompson has an advantage in that he’s developed a real feel for the course with all of his previous rounds over the years:

“I just like the atmosphere. Being on the water, having the steady breeze. The course is in unbelievable condition every time I play it. The greens are perfect. Visually, it just sets up well for me and when you play a course like that, you’re just going to have fun no matter how you play. So I always look forward to this event.”

Erik Compton, he of the double heart transplant, continues to amaze with his recovery and comeback. He made 17 of 28 cuts, but made the most of it when he did. He won $1.8 million on the year and finished 64th in FedExCup points (he needed to finish 30th or better to play in the Tour Championship). He also finished 55th on the money list:

“It was nice to get off to a good start. This morning was a little chilly, so I shortened my warmup and wrapped myself in a bunch of clothes. If you get it going, the greens were very quick and they’re very true.”

“So if you’re playing well, there are some good scores out there. So conditions will definitely get tighter over the week; and definitely the fastest greens we’ve played on in a while, so you gotta be careful.”

Will MacKenzie has been hindered by his eclectic sporting interests over the years. But it also made him one of the characters on the Tour. He gave up golf after his sophomore year in high school after being a top junior player and did not pick up the sport again until almost 10 years later. He was inspired by Payne Stewart’s 1999 U.S. Open win at Pinehurst in his home state of North Carolina. He’s an outdoor enthusiast who surfs, snowboards and rock climbs. He also spent some time heliboarding in Alaska and lived out of his van in Montana for five years. He’s also been a professional kayaker.

So 2014 was a good year for him making 14 of 27 cuts and $1.853 million. But he’s had to juggle a lot to make that happen:

“It’s been a fantastic off-season. I needed that time off after my crazy little year. Had great weeks off, went surfing in Nicaragua. Thought about what happened last year. Put it all together with my golf coach [Jeff Leishman]. And I’ve been practicing the last ten days and feel pretty good about the game. You know, you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m not in mid-season form, but I feel really good right now.”

But he’s had to go through a lot of changes over the last year:

“Number one was learning how to deal with the kids when they’re out of school. I’m a divorced dad right now, so I got the kids full time when I’m home. And, man, I’m going, ‘Boys, what are we doing today? Oh, yeah, we’re going on the boat.’ So I don’t practice.”

“You’ve got to put in the work to compete against these guys. These guys are really good and I was ready to play golf in the early season. And as the season went on, I got away from it a little bit more and more and the next thing you know, I’m searching and I’m missing cuts and I’m losing my confidence. And then the season’s over.”

“It’s one of those things: I talked to my coach, I talked to my ex-wife and we’re figuring it out. I’ve still gotta make a living and I gotta put forth the effort. I might not need to sit on the range all day, but I need to chip and putt a little bit and keep my feel. And that’s pretty much what we came up with.”

“I’ve got high confidence right now. My coach and I are working on something really good. I’m stripping it right now. I mean I’m really hitting it well. And, you know, I don’t want to kill my chickens before they hatch, but I feel pretty good right now. It’s early in the season, but, whatever, you know I’ve played a lot of golf in my life and I’m just trying to think that I could play great this week.”

So once again, we discover that these guys are all human beings, not some indomitable golf gods. They have issues to deal with in their lives just like anyone else. And just like anyone else, those issues can take them out of the present and into their heads.

The touchstone is knowing the magnitude of their talent and knowing from all those years of playing at very high levels, just what it feels like to be deeply in the present. It’s the only way back.

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