The Team Behind a Pro - Removing Individuality From Golf
Golf can be the most challenging sport to play, from both a physical and mental capacity. We often look at golfers as being individual warriors who rely solely on themselves and thus, success is self-dependent.
Unlike football, where the responsibility of achievement can be shared via a team of 11, golfers seldom have that luxury of relying on another human being - the only example of this would be their caddie.
Of course, we are talking exclusively from a performance perspective: the golfer and their caddie travel the world, playing the best courses the globe has to offer while trying to outdo one another in their teams of two.
I’d like to argue that golf isn’t actually a solo sport at all: in fact, for ultimate success and accomplishment, golfers rely on their inner circle far more than the outside perception may suggest.
The Team Behind a Pro Golfer
If we break down what a typical team around a golfer looks like, you can start to understand how much collective contribution ties around the individual.
Firstly, you have the swing coach; usually the most important member of the team, the swing coach will help iron out any doubts or completely overhaul a swing - if required, of course.
Secondly, there’s the sports psychologist; a lot of golfers work with psychologists - which is unsurprising considering how mentally resilient a professional golfer must be - and the benefit of working with one is well documented.
Now we start to move away from the professional area and look at fundamental ties such as family and friends.
Undoubtedly, as junior golfers seek an access point into the professional ranks, the support of family cannot be underestimated or undervalued.
Satellite tours, such as the EuroPro Tour, offer golfers a route into professionalism but the prize funds on offer cannot support full-time occupation - unless you finish in the top five of what is a 150+ player circuit.
As a consequence of this, family are leaned on heavily to support the golfer during the early origins of their journey.
The Example of Jack South
Jack South competes on the EuroPro Tour and finished 14th in the Order of Merit for the most recent season.
When we spoke after his second round of the Tour Championship back in October, he could not emphasise the importance of his team enough.
“I first saw a sports psychologist at Clevedon Golf Club and we remain in regular contact today, I can attribute a lot of success to not solely him, but my complete team.”
For a golfer who is edging closer to the Challenge Tour - one-step away from the European Tour - it’s interesting to understand that without his team, he’d be struggling to compete.
“Would I be able to play good golf without Tippity Green Golf Club giving me the facilities: my own bay and hit as many balls as I like? No.
“Would I be able to get to where I wanted without the financial backing of my parents and sponsors in the past? No.”
Golf is Not a Solo Sport
For someone who is on the cusp of reliving what I’m sure is every amateur golfer’s dream and playing for large cheques and big trophies, South attributes a substantial proportion of his success to his team: his inner circle.
It provides a direct argument of golf being a ‘solo sport’ but it’s similar to a lot of things in life, take the CEO of a company for example.
Success of a business is usually attributed to the ‘forward-thinking’ CEO, and a singular name is often attached to that.
However, without a team of hard-working and committed individuals bustling in the background, the high-octane success of the corporation mostly ceases to exist.
You could argue something similar within golf; when we watch the sport, we see our favourite golfer and their caddie tackle the field and the course - and all of the accolades tend to go directly to the golfer.
The Support of Family
Yet what you seldom see are sessions the golfer has with their swing coach, their psychologist, or even advice from friends and family.
They say: ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’, and they’re not wrong - with South being able to support that belief.
“There’s also the emotional connection with my fiancée who is so supportive to me and my goals.”
That’s the thing about professional golf, you need every person within your inner circle to be on board, if even just one component looks susceptible to negativity, the wheels can truly come off.
While the value of the team is now documented, when the golfer takes to the course, the preparation has been finalised and the role of the caddie comes to fruition.
We’ve heard conversations between a golfer and their caddie broadcasted plenty of times; they’ll either try to talk their golfer out of an unwise decision or sometimes, cause an error of their own doing.
For South, describing the role of his caddie comes naturally: invaluable. Without him, perhaps the success earned over the last few months may not have been possible.
“My caddie is another part of the team and he was great this week [Tour Championship], I woke up with a horrific back situation at 3am and I could not move - meaning I took a lot of painkillers.
“I tried foam rolling while my caddie went to Tesco for me - an eight-mile drive - and purchased heat pads in addition to carrying my clubs for me here, there and everywhere; if I was on my own, I would have struggled a lot.”
While the 29-year-old may not have finished within the top five in the Order of Merit and thus, failed to qualify for his Challenge Tour card, he never looks defeated; he refuses to present himself as deflated.
Why, you ask? He has a team around him that offer unconditional support whether it be rain, wind or sunshine.
“My caddie was excellent all week, especially for the rain yesterday [his first round] as he kept me dry throughout.”
While South may have fallen short of his goal by a margin of eight places in the annual leaderboard, he has plenty to show for his work completed since the turn of the year.
His first professional win in a competition contested over several rounds and shooting 59 at Leven Links Golf Club to secure a dramatic financial boost was a highlight - but yet the most important of them all, is preparing to welcome his first child to the world in January.
Would any of this be obtainable if it wasn’t for the role of his inner circle? That’s something only he can answer.
“It’s the team, isn’t it? I’m so appreciative of all the people who help me get to where I need to be, eternally grateful.”
The next time you see Rory McIlroy win a PGA Tour event or if Jon Rahm can double his current major tally, there’s a rather large team behind them that provide the support when warranted.
The same can be said for the first ranks of professionalism; there’s a group behind the golfer to help guide and empower them along their journey.
I think it’s time we remove the individuality from golf and start understanding the bigger picture: golf is not - and never has been - a solo sport.
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