Why becoming a dad improves your game
June 17, 2020
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
- Andrew Landry won The American Express just one month after his son, Brooks, was born. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
Fatherhood changes a man. It should. It's supposed to. Yet, for all of the unprecedented emotion and intimacy the father feels because of and for his newborn child, it takes time for the evidence to emerge.
If it is noticeable right away, it's in contrast to what has been known about the man ahead of it. Too rapid, and a cynic -- even the man himself -- could question it.
But what if it could be measured quantitatively? It's possible for professional golfers and there's been a theory linked to it for nearly 25 years. Call it the Diaper Dimension.
Keith Elliott is the originator, or as the kids say, the OG. He's a native of Liverpool, England, never has lived anywhere else and claims only three addresses throughout his life. He was born in 1941. Bettors, fantasy gamers and many golfers themselves know all about the angle, but they probably don't know much about its inventor.
It was in Elliott’s “The Golf Form Book 1996” where his English translation of the phrase debuted. In the section dedicated to “Top 20 Tips for Successful Golf Betting,” it slotted No. 1 with this passage: "Becoming a father, especially for the first time and especially of a son, can really have a profound effect on any sportsman.""The Golf Form Book 1996" was the first time author Keith Elliot wrote about the benefits of being a dad on TOUR.
Contributing to the value of its placement in the book even then, immediately following were the leading variables used for all prognostication today – current form and course history, respectively.
Before he graduated from Liverpool University with a degree in economics, served as a broadcaster and analyst for golf, horse racing and other sports, and carved a niche as a successful motivational speaker in the banking industry, Elliott was in the same year and sauntering the same halls at Quarry Bank High School as John Lennon. The two never shared a classroom, but Elliott was familiar with Lennon's circle of friends and pre-Beatles band, The Quarrymen. Imagine …
The notion and application of the Diaper Dimension came together for Elliott when his first son, Steven, was born in 1978. Times were tough in Liverpool and for him personally, but it wasn't until he retired at age 55 in 1995 that he had the time to consider sharing his research. His dedication to it since has yielded over a dozen books on golf analysis.
"The results of being extremely busy – the day job as a lecturer in economics and doing other things," Elliott recalled in a phone interview during the hiatus due to the pandemic. "So, I was developing all of these thoughts and ideas tangential to that."
In "The Golf Form Book 1996," Elliott cites numerous circumstances of athletes in multiple sports who benefited from the Diaper Dimension. Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Steve Elkington and Larry Mize were among those listed, and they represent notables only on the PGA TOUR dating back generations.
With a litany of examples supporting the theory over time and despite the simple genius of the perspective, Elliott still isn't surprised that there wasn't any focus on the psychological advantage of fatherhood until he tackled it. Physical fitness, equipment and other generally accepted component of the craft of a touring professional already were established.
"It came at a time when life was very different," Elliott said. "We're talking 25 years ago. To talk about men having mental skills and having problems with anxiety or depression, well, they 'should pull themselves together.' There were some real tough, hard, old styles and attitudes."
Jack Nicklaus also was included in Elliott's original grouping of U.S.-based golfers for whom fatherhood seemed to have been a springboard. His first son, Jack II, was born in September of 1961. Of course, the elder Nicklaus already was a can't-miss star, but he also already was a father at the age of just 22 when he prevailed at the U.S. Open in 1962. It was his first career PGA TOUR victory and one of three that season.
Despite his promise, the 18-time major champion-in-the-making hadn't yet developed the kind of grit that seasoned competitors require to understand how to win and keep winning. It'd come in time and as he and his wife, Barbara, kept having kids – five to be exact – the patriarch was on his way to 73 career titles.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a professor of sports psychology at Austin Peay State University and contributor to PGATOUR.COM over the years. He reinforces Elliott's observations by using The Golden Bear as an ideal model.Jack Nicklaus with his son Jack II during the 1998 Presidents Cup. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
"I think there's a couple of ways to go about it," Steinberg said. "Lee Trevino used say that Jack Nicklaus was the greatest player in his spare time. Even though he was kidding, Lee made a good point. The idea is that if you put all of your ego eggs in one basket, all you are is a golfer. Then, when you step on a golf course, you feel a lot more pressure. But if you have a lot of different ways to feel good about yourself – other than being a great golfer, Nicklaus was a course designer, he was a club designer, he was an equipment designer, and he also had his family; he always said that he tried to [attend] every basketball game. What that does for Jack is, when he steps on the golf course, he doesn't feel like he has to win because he feels good about himself from a variety of angles. He gets his self-esteem from a variety of venues; therefore, he feels less pressure."
Just as there was only one Jack Nicklaus, there was only one Payne Stewart.
Moments after sinking the winning putt of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Stewart walked over to Phil Mickelson, then a 29-year-old still in pursuit of his first victory in a major. Mickelson's wife, Amy, was due to give birth to their first child at any time, so he competed in the tournament with a beeper in his golf bag so as to be alerted if she went into labor. After shaking hands, Stewart clutched Mickelson's head, held it steady, and said, "Good luck with the baby. There's nothing like being a father."
This was what was on Stewart's mind just a few seconds after he converted the winning putt. The next day, Mickelson's daughter, Amanda, was born. The major waited a little longer.Payne Stewart celebrates winning the 1999 U.S. Open. (Craig Jones/Getty Images)
Mickelson's first trophy presentation in a major didn’t arrive until the 2004 Masters, the year after he finished third for the fourth time at Augusta National Golf Club. Elliott had called his shot. See, Mickelson's third child – but his first (and only) boy, Evan – was born in March of 2003.
"That win, which I predicted in the autumn in advance when he was 33-to-1, really got me going personally as someone who realized that these things really were true at the highest level," Elliott said. "[The first-born son] can make all the difference without any doubt at all."
Because legalized betting in the United Kingdom has been a part of the culture for decades, the phenomenon of the Diaper Dimension has had time to be absorbed by fan and competitor alike.
In 2017, Tommy Fleetwood was enjoying a career year on the European Tour, in part with the knowledge that he was going to be a first-time father. On Sept. 28, Franklin was born. A week later and in advance of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the Englishman with the flowing locks legitimized Elliott's long-time theory while acknowledging how Danny Willett won the 2016 Masters just 12 days after his first son, Zachariah, was born.
"I can't believe after going through that, you can win the Masters the next week," Fleetwood said. "It's an unbelievable couple of weeks. Those things do happen. When you're on a high, I think when your mind's not fully on golf, it might work in your favor."
“It’s happened to other players, hasn’t it? So, why can’t it happen to me?”
Fleetwood finished T25 that week, but he went on to win the Race to Dubai in November and joined the PGA TOUR that fall.
The proof not only is overwhelming, it continues to grow. It's not scientific per se, but the advantage isn't lost on numbers guru and five-time PGA TOUR winner Bryson DeChambeau.
"It was funny because Bryson and I were sitting on a tee at Memorial talking about it," said Andrew Landry, he himself a beneficiary of the Diaper Dimension. "He threw out a percentage of the guys who, as soon as they have a kid, win. And I was like, 'You would know that stat!'"
After losing his card following the 2015-16 PGA TOUR season, Landry regained it with a phenomenal 2017 season on the Korn Ferry Tour. He carried the momentum into a T7 at the Safeway Open to launch the 2017-18 PGA TOUR season.
A T4 at The RSM Classic and a playoff loss at The American Express solidified his job for the following season, but he punctuated the form with his breakthrough victory at the Valero Texas Open on April 22, 2018, not far from his home in Austin. It wasn't a coincidence that his first child, Brooks, was born just one month prior.
Andrew Landry wins at The American Express
"100%," said Landry. "I think that it was time for me to really grow up and be a dad and be someone that he can look up to. Be like, 'My dad won a PGA TOUR event' or 'My dad played the PGA TOUR for X-number of years.' That was my goal as soon as we found out that we were having a baby, and especially a boy."
"All my ducks were in a row. It led into positive thinking, some emotions of having a child, some emotions of playing some really good golf, just being with my family. That was the first time that my parents, my brother, his wife, their kids, all of my friends, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, my aunts and cousins were all there for that one particular week."
Nick Taylor won the Sanderson Farms Championship in what was just his fourth start as a PGA TOUR member in November of 2014. He needed the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to secure his card, but the victory couldn't be ruled out as a carryover from a strong finish to the KFT season.
The Canadian has retained his playing privileges since, but he didn't capture his second TOUR title until the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year. For style points, he held off the likes of Jason Day and five-time tournament champion Phil Mickelson to win by four. His first child, Charlie, was born last October.
Perspective was key just three weeks before the win, as Taylor sat T18 through two rounds of The American Express before missing the 54-hole cut. After a week off, he finished T49 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with a steady but unspectacular performance.
"Most times, I'd have been pretty choked for a couple of days," he said of the missed cut, "but we hung around that day and drove home the next day. It was kind of like, you just reset because you have to change a diaper, you have to put your son down for a nap. [The failure] kind of goes away much faster, which I think is great for golf because there's a lot of failure, obviously with missing cuts and not winning very often, it's now easier to forget about that stuff quickly."
Not that those around him didn't see it coming.
"We didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl," Taylor added, "but once Charlie was born, my parents and (wife) Andie really thought that it would help me in the sense of gaining perspective, not fully living or dying by each tournament. Not that I was terribly that way but adding that aspect, I heard multiple times that it'd be a great thing for me and my career. And I agreed.
"For me to win so quick on the turnaround, everyone looks like a genius."
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Nick Taylor wins 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
When the results make it look so simple to understand, positive performances connected to it shouldn't be ignored.
Jhonattan Vegas began the 2015-16 season on Past Champion status. Occasionally parlaying sponsor exemptions into success and capitalizing on other opportunities on merit, he started strong, but by no means was he a lock to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. After taking a month off for the birth of his first child, Sharlene, in March of 2016, he reconnected and returned to the winner's circle at the RBC Canadian Open in July. Two months later, he competed in his first TOUR Championship.
"In economics, there are laws, but they're all statements of tendency." Elliott said, "Whereas in physics, there are laws that have universal truths. With the Diaper Dimension, there is a strong tendency, like a law in economics, for this to be the case. That doesn't mean that it's always the case."
"Ultimately, it's a matter of judgment. Numbers never give you an answer. They give you an assistance towards an answer, and then other things become relevant."
And despite the cliché, winning isn't everything. It's a bonus.
During his second year to regroup on the Korn Ferry Tour, Carlos Ortiz opened the 2018 season with a runner-up finish among five top 20s in the first eight events. Perhaps distracted by the imminent birth of his first child in late May, he missed his last four cuts before Sofia arrived. After several weeks off, he concluded the season by going 12-for-12 with six top 25s to regain his PGA TOUR card.
Meanwhile, in his last 10 starts before his son, Beckam, was born in December of 2018, Bronson Burgoon recorded a pair of career-best T2s and qualified for first Playoffs.
And so on. The connections are as old as, well, Father Time itself.
"I tell people that when you have kids, the world goes from black and white to color," Steinberg said. "[Parenthood] just gives life a greater meaning. You're doing everything now for the future and for the kids."
Professionals golfers are no different. They're human, too.
"Most of the things that I believed then have come about – the importance of mental skills, the importance of getting your mind right," Elliott said of when he introduced his theory. "Everyone in all sports at that time was 100% on the technical angles of golf, [soccer], American football, whatever it was. That has all changed, slowly but surely, and that has enabled people to be more willing to consider the Diaper Dimension and sometimes realize in advance it would work.
"I never thought about it at all until after my son was born."