Tomorrow morning the 90th PGA Championship will begin play at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. This event is a little more special to me than all the others for a few reasons. First, as a PGA member it is our championship and the one, if by some miracle my game would hold up, would be my best chance at competing in a major championship. Second, I have had the honor of knowing a couple of past champions. At my first golf job I worked for 1954 PGA Champion, Chick Harbert. Chick told many stories about winning the event when it was a match play tournament. A friend and mentor of mine, Dow Finsterwald won the Championship in 1958, the first year the event was played at stroke play. Finally, it is special to me, because of a person who didn’t win it. I was an employee of Arnold Palmer from 1981-1996. Mr. Palmer was in his 50’s then and yet every year when the PGA rolled around the preparation for the event became quite intense. He had won just about every other golf tournament in the world but he could never seem to win a PGA Championship. He had a number of chances, the most famous in 1964 at the Columbus Country Club where he became the first player to break 70 in all four rounds of a major, only to finish 2nd to Bobby Nichols. Mr. Palmer finally broke his PGA jinx in by winning the first Senior event he ever entered, the 1980 Senior PGA Championship.
I used the word jinx because for almost any golfer there is a jinx or more appropriate, a mental block or barrier that keeps us from performing at a higher level. For Mr. Palmer I think it was the PGA Championship. For the rest of us it may be an event or a score. My personal barrier for a couple of years was a score of 70. One summer I shot 40 rounds of 70 without ever shooting a single round in the 60’s. It may just be a mental block with a certain club, like a driver or putter. Regardless, once you have convinced yourself you cannot do something it can be pretty hard to overcome. In golf the key to overcoming these barriers is to fight back and not give up. I solved my scoring barrier by playing from the shortest tees on our course until I got used to shooting a score in the 60’s. For our students that fight a certain golf club, we focus on that club. If you are intimidated by your driver, using your 3 wood instead is not the solution. Learning to use the driver is the solution. Some solid advice from your local PGA professional and a little practice will usually solve the problem.