Deep thoughts with Brendon Todd, Harris English and Russell Henley

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Deep thoughts with Brendon Todd, Harris English and Russell Henley

PGA Tour

Deep thoughts with Brendon Todd, Harris English and Russell Henley

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SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Sometimes, while conducting interviews at a PGA Tour event, I feel like I should bill these guys for serving as therapist. Other times, I feel like I should be paying them for the words of wisdom they dole out.

In 2013, at the Riviera Country Club chipping green, I asked Robert Allenby innocently enough, “How have you been?” and he poured his heart out about the troubles plaguing his life for the next hour as I lent a willing ear.

Less than an hour later, I stopped fellow Aussie Stuart Appleby to pick his brain and some of the big-picture, deep musings have stuck with me to this day. Appleby, as I wrote at the time, possessed the sort of wisdom that could only be obtained through experience. He said, “We measure ourselves by some place we think we should be. We should be making more money, or I should be winning again, or I should be keeping my card.”

Then, he said the line I’ve quoted countless times to others: “You know, you can ‘should’ all over yourself.”

I relay this story because three Georgia Bulldogs – Brendon Todd, Harris English and Russell Henley – dropped knowledge on me this week and their words deserve further exploration.

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The depth of Todd’s despair (37 missed cuts in 41 starts between 2016-18) and his current heater have been well documented (twice, in fact). But when we chatted on the phone ahead of the Mayokoba Golf Classic, he said something that really stuck with me about what he planned to do differently this time.

“The most important thing for me is to enjoy the game and understand what type of game I play, what makes it tick, and appreciate that and enjoy it,” he said. “I got to the top 50 in the world (in 2014), and all I could think is, ‘Let’s get to the top 20. I’ve got to get another win. I’ve gotta get better.’ Everything was outcome based. I never took time to enjoy it.”

And now?

“I’m enjoying the preparation, I’m enjoying the competition and I’m accepting the game I have; I’m not trying to change it,” Todd said. “I just am enjoying the competition. I’ve won at every level in golf and I feel like I’m capable of winning multiples times on the PGA Tour. If I can keep it in front of me, keep it on the planet, I’m going to contend on the weeks when I putt well.”

Todd conceded he put too much pressure on himself to validate his first win, and he changed his swing to such an extent that he couldn’t go back to what wasn’t really all that broken in the first place. His ensuing crisis in confidence was like trying to find a spring in a desert. A mirage seemed to wait at every turn. Todd has a lot of scar tissue, but confidence can return as quickly as it can disappear, and he’s going to ride it as long as he can.

Brendon Todd celebrates on the 18th green after winning during the continuation of the final round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

English, who is four years younger than Todd, has experienced a sudden renaissance of his game as well. English ranked a career-worst 149th in the FedEx Cup standings last season. But he’s strung together 28 straight rounds in the 60s and leads the PGA Tour in top-10 finishes this fall with four top-6 finishes, including fifth at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.

It’s mind-boggling to me that English hasn’t won since Mayakoba in 2013. At the time, only two golfers 25-and-under had multiple wins on Tour – Rory McIlroy and English. To what does he credit his sudden return to form?

“Just doing what I did back in college and my first couple years on Tour,” he said. “I know it sounds simple, or why would I steer away from that, but it’s just little things. This game can seem so simple but yet it’s still (complex) at the same time. But I’ve stuck with a game plan and a routine that I do every single day and it’s really helped me.”

English may have been guilty of getting on the merry-go-round of instructors. He’s settled down with Justin Parsons and together they had many long talks evaluating the difference in his game from when he was riding high. In trying to wrap his arms around what went wrong, English decided all he really needed to do was to go back to basics – “I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” as he put it – and hitting greens in regulation to the tune of 79 percent (No. 8 on Tour, but No. 1 among players with more than 8 counting rounds), which was always his bread and butter. Sometimes the solution to all our problems is right in front of us.

Then there’s Henley, who was kind enough to accept my request to discuss his eight-stroke penalty for a golf-ball infraction at Mayakoba. About halfway through, Henley took the conversation in a very different direction when he said, “The Lord has used the game of golf in my life to show me who he is.”

Russell Henley of the United States walks on the ninth hole during the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic at El Camaleon in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It was Sunday, but I wasn’t really expecting a religious sermon from Henley. Still, my ears perked up as he shed light on what he meant. As Henley tells it, a lot of his childhood dreams – winning on the PGA Tour, playing in the Masters, being in the top 50 in the world – were achieved at a young age. But here’s the rub: They didn’t fulfill him.

“They didn’t complete me in a way I thought they would,” Henley said.

There’s a lot to digest in those words, but essentially, Henley’s point was that his faith in religion has become his salvation.

“I can take situations like this and swallow them a little bit easier because my identity isn’t in my golf score,” he said. “It’s a gift I’ve been given to play this game. It’s tough to swallow (missing the cut), but it’s not going to crush me.”

What I learned from Todd, English and Henley, among other things, is these bulldogs still have their bark.

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