Self-reflection leads Adam Svensson to first PGA TOUR title
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Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
Adam Svensson’s late surge leads to first TOUR win at The RSM Classic
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Adam Svensson lost his PGA TOUR card after the 2019 season, largely tied to struggles on the greens. It might have been the best thing for his career.
Svensson didn’t expect to finish 167th on the 2019 FedExCup, nor did those around him. Longtime mentor and Golf Canada national team coach Derek Ingram described Svensson as “Canada’s Rory McIlroy possibility” as a junior player. Svensson won nine times in 14 collegiate starts at Division II Barry University and has long been regarded as one of the game’s premier ball-strikers.
What was holding him back? Svensson earned his first TOUR card on talent alone. In order to return and deliver on his potential, he needed to dig it out of the proverbial dirt.
“I’d like to give you a lot sexier of an answer,” said Ingram, “but I think it’s just a complete, utter commitment to seeing how good he could get.”
Svensson doesn’t recall the exact moment he made this philosophical shift, but the results validate its implementation. Svensson, 28, carded a four-round total of 19 under at The RSM Classic to earn his first PGA TOUR title, two strokes clear of a trio of players – Callum Tarren, Sahith Theegala and Brian Harman – at Sea Island GC in coastal Georgia.
During a week where temperatures rarely exceeded 60 degrees, the native of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada felt right at home. His work over the past year with putting coach John Graham shined through, as Svensson finished atop the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (three rounds at Sea Island’s Seaside course counted toward the stat; the opening round at Plantation, in which Svensson said he struggled on the greens, was not included.)
Svensson moves to No. 6 on the season-long FedExCup standings and earns his first trip to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, PLAYERS and Masters, among other perks. (His trip to Augusta National will occur on the 20th anniversary of fellow Canadian Mike Weir’s Masters triumph.)
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old, 8 years old,” said a grateful Svensson on Sunday evening in the Golden Isles. “I don’t think money really does anything. It’s the feeling of coming down the stretch and winning … you just can’t beat it.”As the TOUR breaks for the holiday season, Svensson gains the knowledge that his best is enough to compete at the game’s highest level. The journey makes it all the sweeter.
Svensson’s career arc was smooth upon turning pro in 2015; he won Final Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament by seven strokes, then kept his Korn Ferry Tour card for two seasons before earning his TOUR card via the 2018 Regular Season.
The 2019 season marked the first time that Svensson’s arc hit a snag. Short putts and distance control were frequent cause for concern, and he ranked No. 183 of 188 in Strokes Gained: Putting. He would have to regain TOUR status via the Korn Ferry Tour.
Svensson would never be described as “lazy,” Ingram said; it was a matter of working hard enough on the right things, with consistency and commitment.
“He’s always been a guy who hits the golf ball in the middle of the club face every single time,” Ingram said, drawing a comparison to the game of fellow Canadian flusher Corey Conners. “He just hits it flush and on-line, the correct distance all the time.”
But he needed that extra edge. It was time to assess whether he was willing to make the necessary sacrifices in order to attain a spot in golf’s upper tier.
“I relied mostly on talent when I was younger,” Svensson said. “I didn’t put enough work in; I wasn’t that disciplined. Two years ago, I decided to give it 100% and I’ve been super disciplined on … I don’t drink (much alcohol) anymore; I go to the golf course every day. I’m up at 6:00. I give it 100% now.
“You can say you work hard, but in the end, you’ve actually got to do the work.”
Svensson’s words are validated by his results. He won twice in the Korn Ferry Tour’s 2020-21 combined season to comfortably regain his card via the season-long standings. Now it was time to solve his long-vexing bugaboo on the greens.
Svensson had a stint with veteran caddie Ted Scott last fall, and Scott remarked to Graham of Svensson’s innate ball-striking prowess.
“He’s like, ‘Dude, you need to meet this kid,’” Graham recalls Scott’s message. “This kid can flush it.”
Graham and Svensson began working together last December. Svensson revealed a tendency to pull short putts; the two focused on maintaining a “soft and flowing” stroke to avoid quick bursts of acceleration or face rotation. Lag putting has also been a focal point; Graham notes a goal of “keeping the change out of the pocket,” alluding to the importance of not needing to mark the ball on the green.
“We really work on flow in my stroke, and sometimes on the long ones, especially this week, it’s fast,” Svensson said, “so just having a little bit more flow has helped me with speed control, because I do get a little jabby sometimes. Just having a little bit more flow in the backstroke.”
Svensson had missed the cut in three prior appearances at The RSM Classic, pointing to struggles on the greens. No such concern this week. He broke out of a four-way tie for the lead with an 18-foot birdie on the par-4 16th hole Sunday, followed by an 11-foot birdie at the par-3 17th.
Normally even-keeled, Svensson understood the moment’s magnitude, unleashing a hearty fist pump. A routine closing par meant his breakthough PGA TOUR title, to accompany three Korn Ferry Tour wins.
“Those are very honest comments from Adam,” said Ingram of Svensson’s desire to work harder, “that I’m impressed that he has acknowledged and recognized and shared. This is a guy who has extraordinary talent; in my mind, he was Canada’s Rory McIlroy possibility when he was young, and now I see a guy who’s focused, who’s working harder than ever, who’s super smart about his work, and who’s extremely committed to getting better and seeing how good he can get.”
One step back, many steps forward.
“Realizing how hard everyone works on this TOUR, and what it takes to get here,” Svensson said of losing his card, “it was a blessing. It changed my path.”
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.