Fans always focus on the glamorous end of the leaderboard — victories, trophies — but the stories are often less compelling on the harsh end of things, where blood vessels pop more often than flashbulbs. If there is truth in the cliché that it is lonely at the top, then the bottom can be completely desolate.
While the attention was trained on match play at the WGC Dell Technologies in Austin, the PGA Tour’s infantrymen—the best of the rest—were at the Corrales Puntacana Championships in the Dominican Republic. In Thursday’s first round, Parker McLachlin got off early in a strong wind and had a 2-over par through eight holes.
“I felt like I was hanging in,” he told me Saturday morning from the bleachers at the Scottsdale ballpark, where he was watching his 8-year-old son’s season-opener.
On his 9th hole, number 18, McLachlin thought his tee shot cleared the inlet to reach dry land. Finding it in danger, he returned to the T-shirt. A poor second attempt was wet and a rules officer went back to the fairway to fetch another ball from his caddy. His third attempt started right, found the rocks and rolled into the water. The officers left again. McLachlin scored four runs off his fourth ball and scored 10 runs on the hole and scored 87 runs that day.
“It’s outrageous, to be honest,” he said. “The back group is running up and you’re throwing ball after ball into the water.” While warming up before the second round, recurring plantar fasciitis flared up in her right leg, making it impossible to push off on her left. He WD’d, but didn’t cite it as an excuse: “I played crappy before my foot hurt.”
McLachlin was good enough to win on the PGA Tour, claiming a seven-shot victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2008. At 42, Smriti is fading away fast—he’s made just 5 cuts in 31 that pre-2018 start—but still enough to maintain a belief that he might be good again. A week before moving to the Dominican Republic, he played in Mexico. “It’s the best hit I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “Five-unders to 10 without blinking.”
His voice left behind.
“I don’t know what I’m going to get from day to day. My swing was never the prettiest, but I just knew I was going to get the ball into the hole,” he said at last. Not really knowing where the ball is going, and having that worry leads to stressful rounds of golf.”
Because of the reputation of short-game wizardry, McLachlin now has more teachers than competitors. (In the final round of his victory, he hit only one beat in regulation on the ninth front, but even an equal.) He works with players from the PGA and LPGA tours and has a high demand for clinics. He believes that teaching has replaced some of the enjoyment taken by the scorecard. “I feel happy helping people,” he said.
Helping yourself is an entirely different challenge.
His first of three debuts this year was at the Sony Open in his childhood hometown of Honolulu. On the morning of the first round, McClellan woke up at 3 a.m.
“The only thing I could see in my head was bad shot after bad shot. For the next two hours until my alarm goes off, I’m only looking at train wreck after train wreck, He said. “It’s a weird place to be given something I used to be really good at, which I do in front of thousands of people and TV cameras.”
Ultimately he scored 71-70 to miss the cut. “It makes me contemplate filling a flask with tequila before the round,” she admitted with a laugh. “I need a way to turn my mind off.”
The line between ecstasy and despair is dangerously thin, even for the best golfers in the world. McLachlin referred to a tweet by Max Homa that every Tour player with a good swing thinking he could win the Masters and retiring a bad swing. “It’s always been the golf swing for me,” he said. “I would have believed in myself, but as I started getting more technical, the belief in the effect faded away.”
McLachlin flew home on Friday, disappointed but still undefeated. “It’s good to talk about it, just take it out so it doesn’t get worse,” he said. “There are professionals who have dealt with this and amateurs who want to enjoy the sport more. It is something we can all admire.”
When asked when his next tournament would be held, he said, “Don’t know.” As the defending champion, McLachlin can expect a few Tour starts each season, but with a young family and a thriving teaching business, there is no desire to chase the Monday qualifiers and mini-tours.
“I’ll probably be attending an event this summer. Maybe I can find a thing to click and I’ll be as confident as ever,” he said with genuine optimism. “I don’t think it’s much is far. It’s not currently, but it’s not far off. We all feel this at the highest level.”