Picture Ian Baker-Finch winning the British Open – the 2007 British Open.
This might give you a sense of what Oklahoma State redshirt freshman Jonathan Moore accomplished in winning this year’s NCAA Division I Championship by four shots while leading the Cowboys to the team title. Moore, 21, also won his two preceding college events en route to first-team All-American status, and in mid-July fired four rounds in the 60s to win The Players Amateur at Belfair Golf Club in Bluffton, S.C., moving to No. 1 in the Golfweek/ Titleist Men’s Amateur Rankings. (He currently is No. 3.)
There was a time – namely, when Moore first arrived on the OSU campus in fall 2004 – when such accomplishments were expected. He was a three-time AJGA All-American groomed at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a straight hitter with a pure putting stroke. Then golf’s capriciousness struck with a vengeance.
A back-muscle injury forced Moore off the 2004 summer circuit, and he arrived in Stillwater, Okla., that autumn with a dulled competitive edge, a tight left hip and an oft-strained lower back. Throw in OSU’swindy and difficult Karsten Creek Golf Club and a sudden case of the yips, and the can’t-miss kid was sometimes struggling to break 100. His injuries and the collapse of his game led him to redshirt his freshman season of 2004-05.
It was as shocking a horseshoe as the game can offer, and yet by all accounts Moore handled it with consummate grace and maturity.
“Jonathan had a super attitude throughout the whole thing, and his family is a great support group,” says Kevin Smeltz, director of instruction at Leadbetter’s training facility at ChampionsGate, Fla., near Orlando. Smeltz became Moore’s coach in May 2005 and sees his pupil monthly as well as monitoring e-mailed video. “For what he’d been through, it was amazing.”
Moore and his family had experienced far worse than a derailed golf game. At age 8, Moore lost his older brother, who had been born with a heart defect, to a heart attack at age 11.
“I saw how my parents dealt with adversity,” says Moore. “You need perspective in life, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude.”
Perhaps nowhere was Moore’s can-do spirit made plainer than in his handling of the since-banished yips.
“People talk about how you can’t putt with the yips, but you can,” Moore says. “When I started getting very shaky through impact, I realized I was missing most putts to the right. So I started aiming left and shaking them into the hole. You can let yourself be a victim, or you can work through things.”
Moore chose the latter and, guided by Smeltz, has come out the other side with a vengeance. He no longer has back pain thanks to stretching and soft-tissue treatments, his putting stroke is back to normal and his swing vastly improved.
“We gave him a blueprint as to where his swing was and where it needed to be,” says Smeltz of their initial session. “If it took two weeks, two months or two years to get there, it was irrelevant as long as it was getting better and we were staying the course.”
The course has proven fast and fruitful.