Ross: Gay's new distance helps drive him to victory at Humana Challenge

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January 20, 2013
Helen Ross,

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Birthdays can be a time for reflection as much as for celebration.

Just ask Brian Gay, who began to wonder if the game was passing him by -- literally as well as figuratively -- about the time he hit the big 4-0.

The facts didn't lie. Golf's power players, the Rory McIlroys and Dustin Johnsons and Bubba Watsons of the world, were dominating. And even though Gay compensated for his lack of length with pinpoint accuracy, he was finding it harder and harder to compete.

So a little over a year ago, Gay sought the counsel of Grant Waite, who won the 1993 Kemper Open, and Joe Mayo. He stopped short of saying they'd engineered a complete overhaul of his swing but the changes, particularly with the driver and his woods, were "significant" just the same.

And on Sunday at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation -- wrapped in a frantic finish that saw Gay go from thinking he had lost a chance to end a three-year victory drought with a par on the 72nd hole to a stunning playoff win -- Gay knew he had made the right decision.

"It feels amazing right now," he said. "I'm still in a little bit of shock. It kind of happened so fast there at the end."

Indeed. Gay closed with a 63 to erase what had been a six-stroke deficit for him at the start of the day to earn the fourth victory of his PGA TOUR career. He played aggressively and caught Scott Stallings on the 11th hole, then took advantage of his second chance, making a 5-footer for birdie on the second extra hole.

"It was a roller-coaster," said Gay, who had to wait while Stallings and Charles Howell III finished after him to see how everything would shake down. "I figured at least one, if not both of them, would birdie 18. So I was fortunate for that not to happen and have another chance. And boom, there we go.

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Brian Gay took the lead in the season-long race with his win. Standings

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"And just felt like I kind of had a second life, another opportunity."

That's exactly what Gay thinks the work he's been doing with Waite and Mayo has given him, too. Gay came to them ranked dead last on TOUR in driving distance, averaging just over 269 yards. He estimates he's picked up about 10 to 15 yards -- which hardly puts him in line with the big-hitters but at least gives him more of a fighting chance.

"Obviously my game, I've got to put it in play and score from there and take advantage of the opportunities when I have them," Gay said. "I think the TOUR, I think it's a lot of a power game now, the last number of years. I feel like a bit handcuffed at a lot of events.

"So I felt like I needed to try to make some changes, getting older and not getting any longer, so I felt like I needed to try to do something different and help my game."

As he tried to incorporate the changes last year, Gay managed just three top-10s. The year was a difficult, draining process but the last was a tie for third at the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and he finally felt like things were coming around.  

"It's tough to go out and make changes and try to play on the TOUR," Gay said. "The TOUR's hard enough, when you go out and you're trying to do new stuff and trusting it. So it's easy to kind of get on that downward spiral, if you will. So it felt like a battle most of the year. ...

"I actually started out decent last year, but the summer was long and tough, and I think Disney helped me a bunch. I played really good at Disney to end the year on a good note.  And I just felt recharged and refocused to get off and have a great year this year."

Sunday was certainly a fast start in that direction.
 
"What I can take from today or this week and the start of this year is that really believing in myself and my ability and believing I can go out there and do what I know I'm capable of doing." Gay said. "I definitely didn't believe that last year.

"It's happened quick going to the second event out and always feeling a little rusty after a couple months off, so it's a bit shocking and very thrilling."

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