Tyler McCumber is doing it his way
September 21, 2018
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
Tyler McCumber is not living the life of a usual professional golfer. And that’s just fine.
McCumber, who won the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada Player of the Year award in 2018 after three victories and six top-10 finishes, is quick to quote Latin philosopher Publilius Syrus.
“Anyone can man the helm while the sea is calm,” is his favourite, and no wonder – McCumber is comfortable manning the helm no matter where life leads him.
McCumber started surfing before he played golf, for example. He uses his weeks off to get completely off-the-grid – it’s not unusual for McCumber to camp or hike versus return to his more mainstream pro-golfer lifestyle in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
The only surprise is that McCumber didn’t also quote Frank Sinatra, since he’s doing things his way.
Take this past winter, for example.
McCumber went to Australia for six weeks, and then New Zealand. He played a little golf, but the trip was more so meant for him to engage with people from around the world. He learned about their cultures while he continued to find himself.
“I’m more in the moment, and I try to spend my time doing things that have sustenance to it, and prolonged value,” says McCumber. “I like one-on-one situations. I like personable interactions.”
McCumber left his golf stuff in Auckland and he hitchhiked for a month. He had a surfboard and a backpack and that was it. He surfed his way up the south coast. He stayed in hostels. He stayed one night in a van.
“It was the ultimate adventure,” he says. “I loved it.”
McCumber didn’t start to play golf until he was a teenager. Instead, he surfed.
Growing up minutes from the ocean, McCumber did the swim-before-you-can walk program, a popular thing for youngsters in Florida who will be growing up near a pool or body of water for their whole childhood. He was comfortable in the ocean from a young age and had a family friend who would come over to babysit. She got him into surfing.
He also played baseball and was “good for a 12-year-old,” playing on all-star teams and travelling, but he’s not sure how that would have translated later on in life.
“I was always pretty small, so my role was always to be lead-off hitting, get on base, and then play all the fast-paced positions,” says McCumber. “I was decent as a kid, but who knows.”
One day McCumber came home from playing and told his father – 10-time PGA TOUR winner Mark McCumber – he was getting bored of baseball. Tyler, at the time, was pitching, playing shortstop, third base, or catching – not exactly the slower spots on the field.
“I said, ‘Son, if you don’t think those positions are busy, you’re not going to like baseball,’” recalls Mark McCumber.
Tyler picked up golf not long after that, but started his swing in an unconventional manner. All he knew was baseball, so he, as a teenager, would be on the driving range at TPC Sawgrass, starting with the club at the top. No backswing. He was a baseball player hitting golf balls.
“I never tried to mold a pattern of the swing,” says Mark. “When you look in the Hall of Fame you see Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Ray Floyd, they are all different kinds of swings, they’re not all classical swings, they’re all individual. I wanted his swing to be his, and it is.
“I remember him asking me how long would it take to be good,” continues Mark, with a laugh. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but if you work really hard you’ll find out in a couple years if this is for you.’”
Tyler would eventually start to swing ‘normally’ and won a handful of junior and amateur events before heading to the University of Florida on a golf scholarship.
To this day, he’s not found a thrill on the golf course that’s been comparable to a surfing one, but admits they are totally different.
Earlier this year Tyler earned a start on the PGA TOUR – his first – after Monday qualifying for the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. He found himself in the final group on Sunday. He says that was a great experience, and important for his development as a professional.
The summer stretch on the Mackenzie Tour, when he went 1-1-T3-1, was another great experience, he says.
“It’s more of a prolonged pressure situation, whereas surfing is a little more high alert. You get the adrenaline going,” he says. “I like them both, but I crave that adrenaline, which is why I surf and jump out of planes.”
There was only one time, McCumber recalls, that he was scared enough to say ‘no’ to an adventure.
This past summer McCumber – who had shoulder surgery in the winter – spent some time in Whistler, British Columbia. He had heard doing downhill BMX trail riding in the parks was really popular, so he got into that. He says the trails were a little less dangerous than going down the actual mountains and through the parks, but he got into the park one day.
He didn’t tell his fellow bikers he played golf, so, he says, they were going down into some ‘gnarly stuff.’
“I went over the handlebars and cracked my helmet,” McCumber admits with a smile. “I got to the bottom and they were like, ‘we’re going to do one more run!’ I was loving it, and I had never in my life fully backed down from something.”
He stayed on the bottom of the hill that time, though.
“Nothing good could come from that,” says McCumber.
But while his son is out seeing the world, and usually doing most things he wouldn’t do, Mark McCumber couldn’t be prouder of the man he’s become.
“I would be disappointed if I thought he was doing things that were risky. I don’t think he’s foolish, but he does things I wouldn’t do. I have no desire to surf giant waves or bungee jump. He said in Whistler he did a 12-mile hike. And I don’t even want to ride in my car for 12 miles,” says Mark McCumber with a laugh.
“I know how hard it is to succeed at golf. I know from experience. It’s not easy to put it all together, but all his hard work has paid off, and I’m very happy for him.”
McCumber’s lone skydiving appearance happened in March in San Diego, but he says he would “like to do it more.” He says he saw a video on YouTube of Tom Cruise doing a HALO jump (it’s a military-style jump designed to get troops on the ground quickly and undetected, so the parachute opens late) for the movie Mission Impossible from 25,000 feet.
“That’s next level,” says McCumber. “But it got me kind of stoked.”
McCumber doesn’t have social media.
He says eventually he might get something as he plays more on the Web.com Tour or the PGA TOUR, but for now he’s happy to grow relationships on a personal level instead.
“With technology, and the interpersonal skills people are losing, I feel like I take a stance in my life to do everything I can to restore the values that I think are important. I keep my world a little smaller… getting off social media does that,” he says. “It allows me to enjoy time with my friends and family.”
McCumber realizes the irony in saying how small his world is when he’s been to so many different countries (he’s never been to any country in Africa, however, and that’s on his bucket list), but he says he doesn’t engage with new people about what he’s done in golf. He wants to learn from their different cultures.
“They don’t even understand. ‘A golfer? You play golf?’ I’m not going to sit there and explain,” says McCumber. “It’s not why I’m there. It’s what allows me to be in that zone and culture of people where they’re just there for these experiences. Seeing the world, and exchanging information about your culture and history and travels and then you go on. It’s a nice break from your day-to-day pro-golfer life.”
McCumber’s own golfer life has been one of growth and learning since he was a teenager. Not many young hopefuls get to count Jim Furyk, Fred Funk, Rocco Mediate, David Duval, and Vijay Singh (who McCumber says has been ‘very encouraging’) as close family friends. But he says it wasn’t always about golf for him. The world is so big, he says, he’s just thankful golf has taken him to so many different places.
“I want to get in as much as I can, because it’s a short life,” he says. “I feel like when you keep your ego out of it, and whatever predisposition people have – naturally, because it’s what our society promotes – when you drop all those you get to indulge and experience life in a more fulfilling manor.”
And while Mark McCumber knows exactly what it takes to get to the highest level in golf – and stay there – he thinks his son is on the right path. He had no dreams of having a son who played professional golf. He just wanted all his children to be happy and good people.
“He’s doing that, and I’m tickled that he’s doing something he enjoys,” says Mark. “He’s very intelligent and always had the ability to do whatever he put his mind to. He’s been able to do that. He’s goal-oriented and once he makes his mind up, he figures it out. He’s done it on his own."