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It Might Not Seem like It, but Golf Is a Team Sport

After 21-year-old Aaron Wise won the AT&T Byron Nelson, he thanked his team. “What a special moment to share with my team,” he wrote on Instagram.

Golf is fundamentally a game of self-reliance, though no one bats an eye when a winner credits their team. Gone are the archetypal loners like Ben Hogan. Even less common today are the lifelong mentorships shared by Jack Grout and Jack Nicklaus. Teams for even relatively low-ranked PGA Tour players now stretch into the double digits. 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson, for instance, travels with a 10-person team, including a spiritual guide.

Wise doesn’t quite take along the crowd of some other pros. But he will travel almost 250 days this year joined by a combination of his coach, trainers, caddy, manager, mother, and victory-kiss-denying girlfriend. Wise’s team will contribute to the ultimate outcome of his near-weekly tournaments, including this week as he competes in the 118th U.S. Open in Shinnecock Hills.

Teams improve performance

Over traditionalists’ concerns, PGA Tour players consider teams a boon to their performance, and the sport. They provide welcome advice, counsel, and training during the grueling tour schedule.

The trend concerns some traditionalists who point to the learning process for the sport’s greats — Jim Furyk, Lee Trevino, Nicklaus, and Hogan. Ben Hogan is once again the archetype. He’s well-known for the painstaking process he untook to find his swing. Fine-tuned with imperceptible incrementality, Hogan devised what he called the “secret.”

Fellow players and media alike debated Hogan’s secret technique for years. He later confirmed in a 1954 Life article the “secret” was an old Scottish technique called pronation that he modified mentally while lying in bed one night and later tried on the course. To hear traditionalists talk about the learning process, it was (and should be still) an entirely cerebral and temperamental exercise. In a sense, critics are concerned that many players replace finding their own “secret” with a team of specialists.

The other side lauds the modern division of labor. Things have changed in golf. In the 1930s, Hogan bummed a ride to the Oakland with Byron Nelson and then won $285 for finishing sixth place (or about $4,700 in 2018). Wise took home $1,368,000 as the AT&T Byron Nelson champion this year. Modern PGA Tour players are quarterback and owner. Or, perhaps more aptly, player and CEO. Teams create an environment and logistical support structure where the players stay comfortable, focused, and only worry only about their game. Thus, players are given the breathing room they need to improve — even while traveling most of the year.

It’s not just the team

Every player draws motivation and knowledge from their inner circle, as well as an extended community of peers and players.

Three months after his 2016 NCAA victory, Wise qualified for U.S. Open as an amateur and played a practice round with Phil Mickelson. Mickelson who imparted upon Wise some advice about longevity in the sport, “over-emphasizing the importance of each week can only lead to stress and failure.”

Unfortunately, Mickelson’s advice was prophetic. Wise shot 74-76 in play and missed the cut at Oakmont. But, almost one year to the day later, Wise secured his PGA Tour card at the WinCo Foods Portland Open.

Later, Wise described that experience as the best learning moment he’s had so far. Now he strives to break into the level of gameplay exhibited at the U.S. Open. “That first Open really showed me what those guys put into their game,” Wise said in a Golf Live interview, reflecting something he said before his 2016 NCAA victory about learning from competitors.

“When you get to compete against the top-notch players, they push me,” Wise said. The pressure has since increased as he faces off against players like Marc Leishman and Jason Day. Just last month, Wise finished T2 at the Wells Fargo Championship, two shots behind Jason Day. Following that performance, Wise bested Leishman at the AT&T Byron Nelson by three strokes, setting a new course record in the process.

Players like 21-year-old Wise make the transition to professional golf look easy. With a win on his 26th start on the PGA Tour, Wise is now in league with Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Rickie Fowler — golfers who started winning early in their lives and careers. But it’s still a transition.

“Aaron has a lot of self-belief,” noticed Casey Martin, his former coach at the University of Oregon. 

Like CBT Nuggets, Wise understands how important it is to keep improving your skills by partnering with a team of expert trainers. To bring out your best game, never stop learning.

 

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