FedEx Cup Playoffs bring joyful sigh of relief for Geoff Ogilvy

Geoff Ogilvy FedEx Cup Playoffs Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

FedEx Cup Playoffs bring joyful sigh of relief for Geoff Ogilvy

PGA Tour

FedEx Cup Playoffs bring joyful sigh of relief for Geoff Ogilvy

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – In most sports, the arrival of the playoffs signify a time when the intensity dials up a few notches and the pressure is palpable. That won’t be the case with Geoff Ogilvy this week at the Northern Trust, the first stop of  the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

Ogilvy could not be more relaxed. In fact, having survived an arduous test just to keep his card last week in Greensboro – where he started the week at No. 125 and had to hold his ground – he feels as if he is playing this week’s playoff opener with house money.

There is the pressure that vying for major championships on the back nine can deliver – the fun kind, he says – and the pressure of keeping one’s job. The latter is different. Ogilvy’s exam at the Wyndham Championship, which he passed by tying for 16th to move up nine spots in the FedEx points hierarchy, was one that reminded him of PGA Tour Q-School nearly two decades ago.

“Last week stressed me out a little bit more than I imagined it would,” said Ogilvy, 40, who missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs the last two seasons after qualifying for the first eight. “Yeah, this is a 1 out of 10 pressure compared to last week.”

Ogilvy didn’t enjoy the emotions that playing for his livelihood squeezed him through, but there was a nice byproduct to the week. One, his battle provided a hearty reminder that what he does for a living means an awful lot to him; and two, he took comfort in knowing that when he needed to summon his best golf, he could. And did.

“It’s nice to know that it’s still in there when I needed it,” Ogilvy said. Of course, there were some reality checks, too. After getting to 6 under through 10 holes at Sedgefield, a run that sent his confidence soaring, he encountered a late bucket of ice water in the form of a double-bogey at the 17th hole.

“It’s almost like the universe telling me, ‘Hey, it’s not going to be that easy,’ if that makes sense,” he said. “Like, nothing’s ever that easy.”

One week later, Ogilvy arrives to Glen Oaks Club with a chance to keep moving up the FedEx Cup standings. Three players have started 102nd or higher and made it to the Tour Championship in the 10-year history of the playoffs, and Ogilvy’s goal is to be the fourth. Such a move would turn a rather forgettable season into a very, very good one. The Tour Championship sets a golfer up to play big events the following season. Ogilvy has played only one major in the last two seasons.

Martin Flores knows some of the emotions that have been swimming inside Ogilvy for the past week or so. Flores started the Wyndham outside the top 125 in points, but climbed 16 spots to No. 118 with a closing 63.

“I said after the round, whether I made it not, I was going to walk away with my head held high, because I did everything I could, in my opinion, to play well on that day,” Flores said Tuesday during his practice round at Glen Oaks. “So many times, I tried too hard and tried to do too much, or pressed. I was just going to go out there, be really committed, and trust in my ability. It worked out.”

After keeping a card from 2012-14, Flores finished outside the top 150 in 2015 and had to go back through the Web.com Tour to regain his PGA Tour card. Though he’d have had limited status for next season had he missed the cut at Wyndham, it was significant to him that he finished so well.

“It can be hard to keep a job out here at times,” Flores said. “You feel like there are times when you can’t make a mistake. It shows you the level of play, the level of competition, and how many great players and good players are out here. It’s tough. You can get kicked around pretty good if you’re not playing well.”

Ogilvy, one of the Tour’s deeper thinkers, has been on a journey with his swing the past couple of seasons in a quest to hone a repetitive action that basically brings him more joy. That’s right, not only good tournament results, but joy that he can take along when he plays fun golf with his buddies. He knows how to close out tournaments – he is an eight-time winner, including the 2006 U.S. Open and three WGCs – but wasn’t in love with the swing that got him there. Something was missing in the physics of his swing plane. He said his old action, though very effective at times, was like “trying to eat soup with a fork.”

“You could hold the fork perfectly and do that, but you’re never going to be able to eat the soup, right?” he asked. “I’ve found my spoon.”

Today, Ogilvy feels as if he is onto something, that he has a hand on golf’s magic elixir. He found his way through weeks and months of trial and error, by watching swings in tournaments and on YouTube, by asking the right questions, and simply experimenting.

“Like (Ben) Hogan would say, he looked at everybody and tried everything, and that’s kind of what I’ve done,” he said.

Somehow, all of it led Ogilvy to the playoffs again. And Flores, too. And if that feels quite good to them, well, it should. As Ogilvy quickly attests, golf is not an easy game.

“It shows you what you really want, I think,” Ogilvy said. “I didn’t appreciate how much I wanted this until it was almost taken away from me last week. … This is what I do. What else would I do?”

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