‘Spiral upwards’: Struggling pro explains mindset that helped him shoot 62

Harry Higgs at Mayakoba.

Harry Higgs at Mayakoba.

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When you think of Harry Higgs, what do you see?

It was just nine months ago that Higgs was at the center of one of the PGA Tour’s most iconic scenes of 2022. Playing at the center of the pandemonium that is No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, Higgs poured in a birdie putt and then, egged on by the delighted crowd, took his shirt over his head. He was followed swiftly by playing partner Joel Dahmen, creating perhaps the first bare-chested twosome in PGA Tour history. Higgs ran across the green and two-stepped into a jumping fist-pump, Michael Jordan-style. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. The crowd, tens of thousands strong, roared in approval. The People’s Open has found its People’s Golfer.

The months that followed have been decidedly lonelier.

Higgs is well aware of his image (“I’m too self-aware,” he admitted Friday); the gregarious 30-year-old has amassed a cult following as a jovial man of the people who buttons as few buttons as possible and keeps a glass of Tito’s at easy reach. His provocative deep-Vs serve as metaphor: Life — and golf — is meant to be enjoyed. Let it breathe.

But Higgs is also well aware of the realities of the PGA Tour. The realities of stroke-play golf. If you’re off — even just a little bit — there are dozens of pros waiting to pass you by.

Higgs said he “had a blast” on Friday at the World Wide Technologies Championship. That makes sense; he shot the best score of the day, a nine-under 62 that featured seven birdies, an eagle and plenty of characteristic Higgs grins. He finished the round with a daring effort from the fairway bunker at No. 9— “probably a bunker shot I shouldn’t have tried, a big ol’ high slice,” he said — that skittered to a stop just a couple feet from the hole. Every round is better with a kick-in birdie at the last.

But 2022 hasn’t been easy for Higgs. He’s had just two finishes better than T36: a T11 at the off-field Barracuda Championship and a T14 at the Masters. He finished the PGA Tour season by missing four of his last six cuts to finish No. 130 in the FedEx Cup and lose his fully exempt status. He went to Korn Ferry Finals but missed three cuts there, too. And in three starts on the PGA Tour season he’s missed three cuts, too.

All of which means Higgs came into this week’s sponsor’s exemption at Mayakoba with a lot on his mind and extra pressure on his plate. He opened with a pedestrian round of 1-under 70. And then came the 62 that vaulted him well inside the top 10. Where has that been?

“I mean, all over the place,” Higgs said when he opened up to reporters afterwards. “Like, I have had a lot of poor days and some consecutive poor days, and then I’ve also had — not as many as I would like — but I’ve had some days that were great where I had full control, I was making good decisions, I was kind of, as we all say, getting out of my own way.”

Higgs said those goods days were few and far between; perhaps two or three rounds per month. That’s not enough. He’s keenly aware. He’s been pressing to find more.

“For the last probably five, four, five, six months, I show up, I’m preparing the same way, I’m probably borderline working too hard and too much at home and here,” he said. “A few too many times, actually, sorry, almost all the time I go on the first tee for a competitive round and I don’t really know what’s going to happen, which is a really not fun place to be.”

That’s one of the toughest battles a struggling pro faces: the vicious cycle. The downward spiral. Higgs described where his attitude could improve: “I have to be careful when I hit a poor shot or make a bad decision to not react as poorly as I have been because that spirals me straight down,” he said. “Honestly, I’ve acted so poorly for so long at shots that were not even really that bad, like, I don’t have a chance to gain that certainty and gain that confidence, right?”

In other words, when things start poorly they tend to get even worse. But on Friday Higgs channeled the inverse, something he used to pride himself on: the upward spiral.

“I allowed myself to, as I would say, spiral upwards to continuously start to feel more and more comfortable with good decision-making, like, thinking through shots and where to miss, good club selection, and good visualization before I hit it, but then also just trust.”

Higgs’ golf swing doesn’t feel perfect. He knows it probably won’t. “But clearly that doesn’t really matter,” he admitted. “If I can continue tomorrow to spiral upwards and feel more and more comfortable and more and more certain in what I’m doing, then I love my chances, right?”

For sure. Any day a pro shoots 62, it’s hard to poke holes in his game. Higgs acknowledged that it will only get tougher from here; there’s a lot of pressure on him to stay in contention for two more rounds. “I have a lot to play for,” he said, acknowledging his limited status. But he also recognized that Friday’s round was worth celebrating. That making his first cut since early August was no small victory.

Higgs’ brother Alex is his caddie, which means he’s seen Higgs as his most jubilant and most despondent. He liked what he saw on Friday.

“He said he saw something different in me today. He said he’s kind of unlocked it, right? So I’m going to go sit and have lunch and hear what he has to say about it,” Higgs said. “Yeah — coach, girlfriend, everybody’s got a hand in dealing with this. Mom, Dad, we all have teams. I hate everybody saying “the team,” but it certainly is a team effort. So there will be some phone calls and conversations about how we continue to do this.”

In other words, Higgs was set up for a satisfied afternoon.

“It will make lunch — and then I’ll probably go sit down by the beach a little bit — it will make that much more enjoyable,” he said.

And then he’ll try to do it again.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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