The PGA Tour player… what is his mindset?

Lets think about the profile of a PGA Tour player who is just starting out …

  • He has finished playing college golf
  • He completed a season on the Tour and earned his Tour card
  • He does not have a lot of money left after expenses
  • He just wants to get into events and play
  • He wants to play well and be competitive
  • He must cover his expenses
  • He must finish in the Top 125 to keep his Tour card
  • He wants to win … eventually

How is a rookie going to approach his career on tour if these great players so seldom win a tournament?

I’ll tell you how – the rookie begins to realize that winning isn’t everything.  He learns that he can accomplish most of his goals without winning.  If he just wants to stay out on tour, gain valuable playing experience, cover his expenses, have a comfortable lifestyle & build a nice retirement account he just needs to make cuts.  This seems like the wrong mindset for a professional to fall into but it just happens.  Almost without knowing it the player ends up here – just trying to make cuts.

Every player who first gets out on tour he thinks he can win.  He quickly sees that there are a lot of good players who have the talent to win.  He comes to the realization that it will take time and a lot of playing experience to gain the confidence to win.  He quickly realizes that, in order to put in this time and get this playing experience, he must keep his card and stay on tour.  This means he must make cuts.  Making a cut gets him a check and that helps him cover his expenses.  By covering his expenses he can afford to play the next week and the next and the next, etc.  He might also consider the PGA Tour’s Retirement Plan.  Each cut made triggers a contribution to the player’s retirement account.  Making more than 16 cuts in a single season substantially increases the Tour’s contribution to the player’s PGA Tour Retirement Plan.  The PGA Tour Retirement Plan is a defined benefit plan.  These plans pay the participant a monthly payment for life during retirement.  This is his nest egg.  This is what he will need to live on if the Champions Tour doesn’t work out for him.  Making lots of cuts during his career is a significant contributor to his monthly retirement income check.

I am told that once a player gets into this mode of “just making cuts” he forgets how to get out of that mode.  Just making cuts becomes the end game.  He is not thinking of winning.  He no longer thinks about making the hall of fame.  He is simply thinking about covering his expenses, making another season and adding to his pension.

Think about it – a player who chose to play professional golf is actually a risk seeker.  He chose to play one of the few professional sports without guaranteed contracts.  The Tour is an “eat what you kill” environment.  Winners win big and losers get no payment.  Once the player gets on Tour he realizes that he cannot risk changing his swing or altering his routine if that may lead to bad scores and missed cuts.  Not making cuts and losing his card is not worth the risk.  It could take him years to get back to the Tour if he loses his card.  The risk seeker becomes risk averse.

The superstars will tell you that they are not like that.  They will tell you that they think they can win every time they tee it up.  They will tell you that they truly believe that everyone else is playing for second … and yet, over their career, they don’t win 90% of the time.  As I illustrated in last week’s blog the majority of PGA Tour players will be doing well to win 4 or 5 percent of the time.

So you may ask …

In a field of 156 players at a regular PGA Tour event how many players really think they can win?

People in the know say only about 1/3 of the field really thinks they can win that week.  The rest of the field is playing to make some money.  Effectively they are just playing to try to keep their card.

Playing the PGA Tour for many, many years is a grind and eventually the grind gets to you.  If a player were to stop and reflect back on his long career on Tour maybe he was just trying to make cuts.