New positive thoughts, outlook fuel Watney's FedExCup resurgence

August 26, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- All week long, Nick Watney never got down. He refused to go negative, didn't dwell on mistakes and didn't allow himself to lose focus on one of the toughest golf course setups of the year, on a course so difficult it carries a warning label.


And once he grabbed hold of the lead on Sunday at The Barclays, snatching it away from Sergio Garcia at the eighth hole of the menacing Black Course at Bethpage State Park, he never let go. Not after two consecutive three-putt bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes, not when he drove it into the woods at the 13th and not when he missed his first and only green in regulation after burying his ball in a bunker at the 16th.

Winless all season and ranked 49th on the FedExCup points list at the start of the week, Watney brought an entirely different attitude -- and a new putting setup -- into the FedExCup Playoffs. Both paid big dividends on a warm, breezy Sunday at Bethpage Black, when his 2-under 69 for a total of 10 under gave him a three-stroke win over Brandt Snedeker, who closed with 70, and four-stroke margin over a struggling Garcia, who slipped to a 75 to tie for third with Dustin Johnson (68).

The victory was something of a catharsis for the 31-year-old Watney, who came into last year's opening event of the Playoffs ranked No. 1, but finished ninth overall after floundering in the second, third and fourth events. It also is his most significant of his five PGA TOUR wins, for a variety of reasons.

First, he came from two strokes off the overnight lead to overtake a high-profile player in Garcia and beat a world-class field that included all the usual suspects by three strokes. In addition to winning his first Playoffs event and his biggest career paycheck of $1.44 million, he also wrapped one finger around the base of the silver FedExCup emblematic of the eventual FedExCup champion and golf's biggest prize -- a $10 million bonus. He also has put himself in the running for one of Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love's four remaining selections for the 2012 team, as did Snedeker and, possibly, Johnson.

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Here are the top five players following The Barclays:
1 Nick Watney
2 Brandt Snedeker
3 Tiger Woods
4 Rory McIlroy
5 Zach Johnson

Another significant aspect to Watney's win is the maturity and resolve he displayed all week long, particularly under the gun on Sunday. Of the 17 pros in the top 10 after 54 holes, Watney's round was the lowest -- a rare statistic in this season of player's from the last pairing swooning on Sunday. Staying positive something Watney has worked since asking his caddie, Chad Reynolds, to tell him where he loses the most shots to the top players. Reynolds gave him the tough answer.

"He said, 'Without a doubt, it's your attitude," Watney said. "Just getting down, lingering on bad things and then making more mistakes. If this isn't proof enough to myself that staying positive is a good thing, then I don't know what could be."

Not to be confused with wishful thinking, staying positive in the face of golf's myriad difficulties and setbacks is not easy to do. But when done realistically, and when all else is equal, it can be what separates winning and losing. Like most things under the sun, it isn't a new concept. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote the "Power of Positive Thinking" in 1952. The book spent 186 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and has sold more than 5 million copies and variations on the theme have spawned industries, one of which is sports psychology.

Garcia recently adopted his own variation on the theme by, ironically in this instance, eschewing any advice or counsel from caddies and relying on his own choices for club selection and yardages during tournament play. He used a local caddie country club last week when he won the Wyndham Championship, his first victory in the United States since the 2009 PLAYERS Championship. This week he used a friend, Wayne Richardson, who took a week off from his regular job as a CBS spotter. He said he will continue the practice when he resumes play in two weeks at the BMW Championship.

What Garcia likes most about his arrangement is taking the responsibility on himself for the good and bad shots, for the good and bad choices, reasoning that it makes it easier for him to forget about mistakes and move on to the next hole.

It has to be working, because Garcia didn't once lose his composure on the golf course Sunday, even though, he said, "I hit a couple bad shots at the wrong moments, and, unfortunately, I just wasn't feeling comfortable. I struggled a little bit with, you know, some of the shots."

What's more, he didn't get angry when a fan clicked a camera on him at No. 10, or when he got razzed by some fans while trying to decide what club to pull at No. 17. When they shouted, "Come on, hit it," pretty much the way they do to their buddies on Saturdays, Garcia was the very picture of equanimity, obviously having long ago forgotten the unpleasantness from the 2002 U.S. Open when he indicated his displeasure in sign language to some loud fans who were shouting at him for gripping and regripping his club.

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"I know the New York crowds are rowdy, but I like them," he said. "I feel like I have a good connection with them. When there's so many guys out there and so many good players, you're always going to get a couple of guys that they are going to try to put you off here and there."

Watney, while accepting all the blame, is spreading around a lot of the credit, citing the perspicacity of his good friend, Sam Reeves, who recommended to Watney that he seek out the celebrated Deepdale Golf Club professional Darrel Kestner for help with his putting. In two visits this week, Kestner changed Watney's putting posture, getting him off his heels and more on the balls of his feet. All of a sudden Watney makes nine putts this week from longer than 15 feet, calls it one of his best putting performances ever -- despite three 3-putt greens on Sunday (remember, positive) -- and there it is.

Somebody even kidded Watney by asking him how much of a percentage he was giving Kestner from the $1.44 mil. Watney played it straight.

"We haven't talked about that," he said, "but I owe Darrell a lot and we'll have a great conversation."

And why not? Watney is now in the conversation as a potential Ryder Cup pick, as a potential FedExCup champion and as a guy who can close out a big event on a big, sometimes bad crowd on a huge stage. That's quite a conversation to be in.