For blue-collar Tour players, MCs weigh heavily
His work over for the day, Aaron Baddeley knew he was also done for the week. Again. Even though it was only Friday.
Still, no one could have expected the volunteers at last week's Travelers Championship to know what sort of anguish was going through Baddeley's heart. So when the Aussie was asked, "How did you do today?" he was polite. "Three-under," he said.
Clearly happy for Baddeley, the volunteer told the Aussie to keep it going, to have a great weekend. Only thing is, Baddeley's 3-under 67 hadn't been enough to overcome the 5-over 75 from a day earlier and so at 2-over, there would be no weekend golf for him. Baddeley had missed his seventh consecutive cut.
Welcome to the side of the PGA Tour world that doesn't get televised – the painful one, the one devoid of big checks and red numbers. Not much fun is there?
"No, not at all," said Brendan Steele. "Absolutely not."
Like Baddeley, Steele has been struggling, and oh, how that is such a ferocious foe to fight in a sport that is such an individual quest. When he arrived at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., last week, Steele had missed six straight cuts and concedes that it was weighing heavily on his mind.
"I have been so miserable and so tied up in knots about how bad I'm playing," Steele said. "The problem is, when you start going the wrong way, every week gets harder and harder to turn it around. and until you get it turned around, it gets worse and worse."
Steele opened with 68 at the Travelers and was 5 under – easily inside the cut – through 10 holes. Then he bogeyed his 11th hole, the par-4 second, made birdie at the the next hole, but bogeys at the fourth and fifth dropped him to 3 under. Steele doesn't deny that self-doubt crept in.
"I felt (the pressure) all day. It was the hardest round of golf I've probably had in my career, because of the mental aspect of it, how much I wanted it."
Steele survived the cut at Travelers and that Friday suggested that it was "huge for my confidence" and could set off a stretch of good play, as if all he had needed was a small spark. So far, so good, because Steele had a productive weekend at TPC River Highlands, finished T-13 and then followed up with a T-16 at the AT&T National.
Still, he talked of the heartache that accompanies a stretch of unsuccessful play.
"There are so many intangibles and things going on out there," Steele said. "People don't realize how much pressure you put on yourself and how miserable it makes your life when you're playing bad. It's far-reaching beyond golf.
"I am miserable with all of my life when I'm playing this bad. It's not like you leave the course and have a good time and everything's OK. It's not. It affects your family, it affects your friends, it really has far-reaching affects."
Asked if it helped to talk to peers, Steele laughed.
"I've been talking to guys. (But) if you're talking to the guy who is playing good, he thinks everything is easy right now. And if you're talking to the guy who is playing bad, he just keeps going on about how hard it is.
"Nothing really helps. At the end of the day, you just have to go out there and get it done, one way or another. It becomes less about golf and more about having the confidence in yourself."
Tommy Gainey is another who has battled a slump in 2013. He missed seven straight cuts and nine of 10 earlier in the year. For the season, Gainey has earned just nine checks in 22 starts.
"I'm just trying to force things to happen," he said. "That's what golf does to you. There's just so many things you have to think about and if you don't, it can get you. So far, it's gotten me pretty good and it's gotten me down, too."
Reminders are everywhere that it's been a less-than-productive season. In FedEx Cup points, for instance, Steele ranks 88th, Baddeley 114th, and Gainey 128th and time, as they say is slippin' away. Starting with this week's Greenbrier, there are seven weeks to add points and even if you wanted to, you may not be in position to take time off.
"I just love to play," said Gainey, who is entered in this week's stop at the Greenbrier, his 23rd tournament. Steele, playing in his 19th, will also be there, trying to continue his positive momentum, while Baddeley, who missed his eighth consecutive cut at the AT&T, will try again to halt his skid.
Others can coast through the summer, doing their tune-ups for the majors. But for the blue-collar crowd, the weekly quest to succeed at this PGA Tour business remains a challenge.
"If I was in a position to take a couple weeks off, I would. But I just love to play golf and play the game I love."
Then, after a pause, Gainey added, "It's tough to stay positive when you get in a slump, but you've got to."
Though he's only in his third year on Tour, Steele has been around long enough to know this: "If you're worried about making the cut, you're screwed. And that's where I've been. I've been worried about making cuts."
The most successful players on Tour are not thinking that way.
"The guys who are making every cut are going out there trying to win every week," Steele said. "So maybe they don't win; but they finish 15th or fifth or whatever, but they make the cut easily. They're not even worried about that. Then the guys who are struggling are saying, 'God, if i could just get to the weekend, maybe I could play a decent round.' "