The 1 mistake made by so many PGA Tour rookies

TPC Sawgrass driving range

The driving range at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Each spring at the Players Championship, while the collective attention is focused on the biggest names in the game, the PGA Tour makes a concerted effort to trot out its newcomers.

Jay Monahan passes out a set of expensive cufflinks to each Players Championship first-timer as they sit in a circle and mingle with members of the media. For many, it’s our first crack at speaking with some of the yet-unheralded players and/or the up-and-comers of the game’s future. 

In this moment of achievement — reaching your first Players — I decided to ask these pros what they’ve learned on that journey about mistakes: What one thing did they do that was wrong during their rookie seasons? For some, that debut campaign was more than a decade ago. For others, it was just last year. But in a surprisingly unexpected way, their responses were stunningly similar. The mistake made too often by Tour rookies? It’s doing too much. Playing too much. Grinding too much. Thinking too much about results.

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Take Sam Stevens, the 27-year-old Texan. “I probably played a little too much,” Stevens told me. “I played pretty good around this time last year and had secured my card. I wanted to get in that top 50 and I ended up not getting in the top 50, but I played so many in a row that I just kind of got worn out and started playing not as well.”

The rabid pursuit of more, more, more is understandable when players’ seasons are judged on the simple aggregation of FedEx Cup points. Why not play more, if there are more points to earn each week?

“I just remember after the U.S. Open, we flew to the Travelers, which was L.A. to Connecticut, which is a super-long flight,” Stevens continued. He had played nine weeks out of 11. “Obviously, you’re not going to skip either of those events. I remember thinking ‘Wow, I can barely get out of bed.’ I was just so tired.”

Ben Taylor, a 31-year-old from England, said he became obsessed with his results, not his process.

“You finally get to the Tour and you dream about all these big things, sometimes you can lose track of what your process is and just maintaining in the present,” he said. “It’s easy to get ahead of yourself when you have all this limelight. After a few events, when it felt like I was hitting it good, playing good, just not threatening top 10s, top 5s, like I had done all the previous year on the Korn Ferry Tour, the process it takes in order to do that isn’t any different. Whether it’s the DP World Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, here, it just makes you realize everyone is very good — yes, the standard is high but it doesn’t mean you can’t make your standard high.”

This results-oriented mindset seems to hang over every rookie arriving on Tour. Especially for those who started their careers in 2023, at the outset of the Signature Events and a more stratified structure of the Tour’s membership.

“Just being too greedy with results was my thing,” Vincent Norrman said. “The beginning you want to perform and do all this stuff. Once I kind of let go of all that, I learned a lot from my mistakes. 

“I think it was an event in Texas actually. (Ed note: AT&T Byron Nelson) I played pretty well, finished top 10. I was like ‘Damn, I just played the exact same way as I have before and finished this tournament better. There’s not that big of a difference. It looks like a big difference but it’s just not.” 

As it turns out, the aura of the PGA Tour — it being the pinnacle — can weigh heavy on the minds of some of its greenest members. It’s an old cliche that coaches tell their pupils on Tour: Don’t look up. When you’re hitting balls on the range, don’t look up. Because you’ll see guys hitting it longer, hitting it better, hitting it in ways you don’t always see elsewhere. It can lead rookies down a path of emulation, on swing form, equipment, tournament prep, etc. 

“Trying to tinker too much or change too much once getting out here, thinking there was more to do,” Ben Silverman said of his greatest mistake. He was a rookie in 2017, kept his card for a year, tinkered his pants off and then dropped down to the Korn Ferry Tour for three seasons, only to graduate back this year. It took years for him to realize just what he was doing to himself. 

“[You believe there’s] something else, a magic trick to competing at this level. You don’t realize it as you’re going through it. You think every little thing you’re trying is going to help out, but it’s kind of deviating from what got you out here in the first place.”

Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just finished a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews.

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