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For successful performance coach Julie Elion, there’s nowhere to hide

9 Min Read



With ascendant Wyndham Clark, Stephan Jaeger and now Akshay Bhatia, Elion reluctantly embraces her moment

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    Julie Elion, the performance coach, was at THE PLAYERS Championship last month when she was approached by a veteran who had fought in Afghanistan. He said he’d seen Wyndham Clark’s episode of “Full Swing” with its focus on mental health (including plenty of screen time for Elion) and had been moved to get help for his PTSD.

    “I was tearing up, he was tearing up,” she said. “His wife was there. It was amazing.”

    Such is life these days for golf’s most recognized sports psychologist, who until recently was so allergic to attention that she went by the nickname “Stealth.”

    “It’s too late now,” Elion said. “I’m not ‘Stealth’ anymore.”

    That’s probably an understatement.

    Akshay Bhatia won the Valero Texas Open on Sunday to qualify for his first Masters this week. You can draw a line back to Elion via Ryan Davis, who works for her company, Center for Athletic Performance Enhancement (CAPE), and is Bhatia’s mental coach.

    Two weeks ago, Stephan Jaeger won the Texas Children’s Houston Open for his first PGA TOUR title at age 34. You can draw a line back to Elion, who calls him one of her hardest workers and predicted a win was imminent while being interviewed for this story.

    Stephan Jaeger closes out first win at the Texas Children's

    Last season, Wyndham Clark won the Wells Fargo Championship and U.S. Open and was the biggest turnaround story in years, and, again, you can draw a line back to Elion.

    When it comes to the "Elion Effect" on the PGA TOUR, she could scarcely be any bigger. Things have gone well enough to invite comparisons to Bob Rotella, although she’s so in demand it might be better to call her a sort of Butch Harmon of the brain.

    And it’s not just PGA TOUR pros. Players on the Korn Ferry Tour, LPGA and DP World Tour; junior golfers (or their parents) and collegiate stars – all have seen the example of Clark and called Elion to say, in essence, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

    “I couldn’t be any busier,” she said. “Would I make an hour for Rory? Yeah, I would.”

    That might sound brash if it didn’t come from the self-effacing Elion. Her ideal work attire would be an invisibility cloak, but that would be incompatible with the demands of building a business. CAPE is growing, and in an effort to keep up with demand, she recently vetted and hired three sports psychologists, Davis among them. He heard Elion on a podcast late last year and was struck by the similarities in the ways they thought about their jobs.

    “She helps the whole person,” he said, “and the golf tends to follow. We spoke, and our styles are so similar. She’s given me some pearls along the way.”

    Added Elion, of Davis, “The minute I met him I knew he was right for this.”

    Bhatia and Davis spoke for the first time on March 10 and immediately began working together via Zoom and phone calls. Something clicked. Bhatia tied for 11th at the Texas Children’s Houston Open, then won the Valero, where he built a five-shot lead through 36 holes.

    Akshay Bhatia overcomes injury on playoff hole to win Valero Texas Open

    “I was talking to my psychologist last night,” Bhatia said Saturday night after a third-round 68 gave him a four-shot lead over Denny McCarthy. “Just all the stories that could happen. What if I lose this lead? What if this lead goes to 10? So many things are in your mind.”

    His final-round 67 should have been enough, but McCarthy shot 63 – with birdies on the last seven holes – to force a playoff. With McCarthy in the water, Bhatia birdied the first extra hole, the par-5 18th. Davis, a psychiatrist and life coach to college athletes and NBA executives in Los Angeles, was watching from afar and marveling at his young client.

    “We’ve gone zero to 60 in three weeks,” Davis said by phone Sunday night. “It’s pretty crazy.”

    And now Davis, who told his wife he’d like to go to the Masters for his upcoming 45th birthday, will in fact be going to his first Masters this week. He’ll stay in a house with Elion, and this will mark the first time he and Bhatia have met in person.

    “It’s just nuts,” Elion said of CAPE’s current run of victories.

    Be that as it may, she is determined to stay focused on the two things that matter: the sanctity of her client relationships and better mental health for all.

    At the start of the war between Israel and Palestine last October, she offered her services – pro bono for 12 months – to Israeli LPGA golfer Laetitia Beck and a Palestinian golf team that has relocated to Cairo. She knows how good she has it, so why not pay it forward?

    Elion lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Rick, a family- and sports-medicine-physician, and their two golden doodles, Daisy and Charlie. She grew up in San Francisco playing soccer in Golden Gate Park, mixing in some basketball.

    “I’ve always been an athlete,” she said, “but nothing serious.”

    She wound up in Western Massachusetts for college, attending Amherst for pre-med, followed by Hampshire College for graduate work. She had moved to Washington, D.C., and started a practice when a friend referred her to a professional golfer to give marriage counseling. With a golfer as a client, she attended her first tournament on the PGA TOUR, where word travels fast. Phil Mickelson started working with her as well as Jimmy Walker.

    One of her clients won a major for the first time in 1999. She stayed in the background. She has worked with players you know about and others whom she’s never mentioned, for it is delicate work and she keeps her mouth shut unless a client talks publicly about her first.

    Elion and her husband have a daughter, Hana, 30, and a son, Noah, 28. They are helping her retire the “Stealth” nickname in the wake of a very noisy 2023 when the hits started early. Max Homa, who has spoken often and glowingly of Elion, won the Farmers Insurance Open and nearly won again two weeks later.

    Then there’s Clark, a staggering talent whose temper used to get the best of him until he became her hardest-working client. He delved into the books ("The Obstacle is the Way” and “The Energy Bus”), did meditation, and got his first win at the Wells Fargo Championship. Then he won the U.S. Open, all of it shown in a moving episode of the second season of the Netflix docuseries “Full Swing” that also featured Elion.

    Clark also won this season’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and had back-to-back runner-up finishes to world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and THE PLAYERS. Clark is now the No. 4 player in the world.

    Wyndham Clark on surprising himself with new career accomplishments

    However big CAPE gets, Elion, who listens to players’ press conferences to hear how they’re thinking, will not lack for testimonials. Clark was in his late teens when his mother, Lise, died of cancer. This led to rage issues he had never fully resolved, and when he finally did, with Elion by his side, it soon became apparent there was no stopping him.

    “She has a great calmness and presence about her that just makes me calm and relaxed,” Clark said of Elion at the U.S. Open. “I'm just so glad that my caddie and agent in November (2022) said, ‘Hey, we've got this lady that we think you should work with.’

    “I was a little reluctant to do it,” he continued, “and I'm just so glad that she was brought into my life, and what these honestly six months, it's crazy to see how much I've improved and how much she's helped me. I wouldn't have thought I'd be a major champion six, seven months ago.”

    Elion is not one-size-fits-all therapy. It’s more complicated than that, as Clark intimated after being paired with the wildly popular Rickie Fowler, a friend and fellow Oklahoma State Cowboy, for the pressure-filled final round of the U.S. Open in Los Angeles.

    “Julie told me, she goes, ‘Every time you hear someone chant ‘Rickie,’ think of your goals and get cocky and go show them who you are,’” Clark said. “I did that. It was like 100-plus times today I reminded myself of the goals.”

    Those goals are situational and different for different players. As Homa told Golfweek last year, “There are a million different reasons to talk to her.”

    Wyndham Clark’s news conference after winning the U.S. Open

    Jaeger, who like Clark is a meditation advocate, told PGATOUR.COM just days before his breakthrough in Houston: “Some of her stuff is not as sport-specific as some other guys, but it kind of resonates with me.” Added his wife, Shelby, “She’s given him so much confidence, and he believes in her so much. I love her – she talks to both of us together sometimes.

    “He’s so much more patient. He doesn’t get mad if he has a bad round or a bad day.”

    The example of Bhatia at the Valero suggests that the Elion Effect can work even if she’s not personally and directly involved with the player, and that’s been the idea as she and her son Noah have built out CAPE. They want to make it a kind of one-stop shop for golf performance.

    “Noah said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with this from a business perspective,’ which is his background,” Elion said. “He does the invoicing, the taxes, but we’re also building something. We’re hiring a body person, a nutritionist, a stats person.”

    And, most crucially, a team of supporting therapists that will number more than three.

    “Working on hiring a bunch more,” Elion texted last week before Bhatia’s victory.

    Akshay Bhatia's news conference after winning Valero

    She knows it’s her players who do the heavy lifting, her players who hit the shots, and they’re making it look easy. They won’t always. But whatever they do next, she’ll be there for it. She, Noah, Davis and the others are building the business through wins, losses, and the human struggle.

    “The clients are the most important thing, and that I don’t mess that relationship up,” she said.

    The ball sits stationary, and there’s so much to think about, so much to feel. The work continues.

    PGATOUR.COM writer Kevin Prise contributed to this report.

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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