After three lost years, Todd finds his way back
November 03, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Brendon Todd's stellar play leads to a win in Bermuda
It was sometime this spring – maybe March, maybe April – when Brendon Todd and his swing coach Bradley Hughes were having lunch at a club in Georgia. They had worked together for less than a year, trying to return Todd, once a top-50 player but now struggling just to make a cut, to world-class stature.
Todd stared intently at his coach. Then he made a declaration.
“You know I’m going to win again,” he said.
Hughes didn’t hesitate in his response: “I have no doubt.”
Based strictly on results, that was laughable to hear. After all, Todd had entered the 2019 calendar year having made the cut in just six of his previous 47 starts. He was not on anybody’s radar to claim a second PGA TOUR title, his first one coming at the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2014.
Most observers likely had dismissed him as a golfer who had simply lost his swing. But those people didn’t know Todd, his work ethic, his fighting spirit, his ability to battle and overcome demons that might crush lesser golfers.
On Sunday at the new Bermuda Championship, Todd made good on his promise of six months earlier. Rallying from a two-stroke deficit to start the day, he threatened to break 60 after a hot start (birdies in nine of his first 11 holes) before settling for a 9-under 62 and a four-stroke victory at 24 under.
“Thrilled over the moon,” Todd said.
But a trip to the moon hardly does justice to the journey Todd traveled in his return to the winner’s circle.
Brendon Todd interview after winning Bermuda
Four years ago in the middle of the FedExCup Playoffs, he found himself in the mix at the BMW Championship, playing in the final threesome of the third round with tournament leader Jason Day and Daniel Berger. “Obviously a big moment for me,” he recalled. His tee shot at the 484-yard fourth hole at Conway Farms that Saturday had found the fairway. With 212 yards to the hole, Todd grabbed his 4-iron.
One swing later, his golfing career began a downward spiral to such depths that he eventually contemplated a new profession.
The 4-iron sailed 50 yards right of the green, past the first set of bushes and into a second set that cost him a penalty. He eventually walked off the green with a triple bogey. The score cost him any chance of winning that week, but it was the wayward shot that stuck with him. Haunted him, really.
Sept. 19, 2015 – the start of Brendon Todd’s ball-striking yips.
The big miss right kept appearing in his play during the wraparound fall schedule. And then it wouldn’t go away. The 2015-16 season was nightmarish – 29 starts, 25 missed cuts. At one point, he missed 15 straight cuts. He ended 2016 outside the world top 400. Eventually, he would fall outside the top 2000.
“I lost golf balls. I was hitting in hazards and hitting it right,” Todd recalled Sunday. “A lot of it was mental. Some of it was the fact that I changed my swing – and I basically battled that scary yip feeling all of ’16.
“And even if I had a tournament where I didn’t hit it, I was so scared of hitting it, I would hit it to the left and I would chip and putt my way to 72 and I missed a thousand cuts. Then you’re trying to find whether it’s a new teacher or a new method or whatever it. I basically spent ’16, ’17, ’18 doing that. … I just couldn’t figure out what it was.”
He made just nine starts in the 2016-17 PGA TOUR season – and missed the cut eight times. He made six TOUR starts the next season, missing the cut each time. Also missed two cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour. His TOUR status was gone. He had lost, in his words, “three years” of his career. He thought about quitting, pursuing other opportunities.
“I was talking to my manager about potentially opening up another business,” he said.
Mechanically, Todd’s swing and footwork were off-track. Former swing coach Scott Hamilton, in a 2017 interview with PGATOUR.COM, said he and Todd were trying to get higher launch angles with his driver and long irons, but it resulted in Todd hitting too far behind the ball. “His timing got all off, and then it was down the rabbit hole,” Hamilton said.
“I taught BT when he was at his best,” Hamilton said in 2017, “and I’m half-involved in screwing him up.”
In the summer of 2018, one of Todd’s former college teammates at Georgia told him to look into Bradley Hughes, an Australian and one-time TOUR member who now teaches in the U.S. and had written a golf book called, “The Great Ballstrikers,” which had been released earlier in the year.
Todd read the book … then booked a lesson.
“It talks a lot about his playing days, the history of the great players, how they swung the club,” Todd said earlier this year. “It has a lot of pictures and drills and models in there. That kind of resonated with me as a player, a feel player, somebody who doesn't really want to go try and paint lines with my golf swing, I want to kind of feel like a pressure or a force and that's what he teaches. He's all about ground forces and pressures. So the book really hit home with me, and I went and saw him and it's just kind of been a home run ever since.”
Hughes was not familiar with Todd, didn’t know the troubles he was having, had never watched him play. They had never met face-to-face until that first lesson. But unlike the amateurs that he teaches, Hughes said working with pros is easy “for the most part because it’s getting back to something he previously did.”
Despite the big miss right, Hughes instructed Todd to open up his club face even more in order to free up his body to move through the shot and to get a better release. They also used a board that helped Todd with his footwork and to feel the pressure points. Todd took six weeks off to work on some drills in his basement.
“Each time we did something,” Hughes said, “it worked.”
Figuring out the mechanical solution is one thing. There was still the mental side – and with the yips, that’s usually the biggest challenge to overcome. Regaining confidence, finding a light in the darkness.
It just so happened that about this time, Todd got a call from a former Korn Ferry Tour caddie, Ward Jarvis, who is now a performance coach focusing on the mental aspects of golf. Jarvis has battled his own kind of yips – the language yips, if you will – as a stutterer.
“I know what you’re going through,” Jarvis told Todd. “I think there’s a way for us to work through it together.”
Jarvis told Todd to read a book written by former major league baseball player Rick Ankiel called, “The Phenomenon: Pressure, The Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life.” Ankiel was a successful starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, but during the 2000 playoffs, he struggled to simply throw a ball across a plate.
“He basically just fell off the map with pitching, had to reinvent himself as an outfielder,” Todd said. “It was a book about the yips. I read it; it kind of helped. And then I just continued to work with Ward and Brad on my game.”
The results weren’t always great but some signs were encouraging. A 61 in Monday qualifying to make The RSM Classic field a year ago left him feeling he was on the right track. He managed a couple of top 20s at the Wells Fargo Championship and John Deere Classic. He qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and a second place at the Nationwide Children’s Hospitals Championship led to regaining his TOUR card for this season.
Four missed cuts to open this season might’ve seemed a setback, but the reason wasn’t his ball-striking – it was his putting. The big right miss was gone now. Plus, he’s no stranger to tough stretches; in his first slump between 2009-11, he once missed 26 straight Korn Ferry Tour cuts. Three years later, he was a TOUR winner. He saw the way back. He would get there again.
“Knew that once I kind of get things right, I just have to believe and keep going after it,” he said.
On a Sunday in Bermuda, wearing a pink shirt and firing dart after dart, Todd turned that belief into a win that offers hope to anybody who has lost their way. The light can be found again.
Brendon Todd's spectacular approach on No. 11 at Bermuda