After two years of crashing and learning, Parker McLachlin reflects on the state of his game and the decision to revert to using his instincts and parts of his old swing
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 03, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 01:58 a.m. HST, Feb 03, 2011
Parker McLachlin could be at the Hawaii Pearl Open next week or the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He could be here, there or anywhere, which is where he found his golf ball off the tee the past two years.
McLachlin decided last month, on a trip home where he "reconnected with my mana," to go back to his golf roots.
The night he won the 2008 Reno-Tahoe Open, the 1996 state high school champion was convinced he needed to change his swing.
He won by seven shots, but had staggered in with a final-round 74 salvaged by his spectacular short game. He did not trust his swing to hold up under pressure.
A golf career that had grown exponentially through high school at Punahou, college at UCLA and three years on tour crashed, and McLachlin learned.
The new swing taught to him by Sean Foley, who had been so instrumental in helping Sean O'Hair and Hunter Mahan, was never something McLachlin truly trusted. He is now using a hybrid of his old swing, based on instincts and feel, with a few Foley keys he successfully integrated.
"I feel like over the last two years I sort of forgot who I was as a golfer. I was in search of trying to be someone else," McLachlin said by phone from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I was trying to be a top 50 player in the world, a world-class ball striker. In the process, I forgot how much talent and how good a player I am, not necessarily through swinging the club perfectly but just playing the game."
He talked with mentors Scott Head (Waikoloa) and Greg Nichols (Ko Olina) while he was home over the holidays, and they reinforced those feelings, reminding him of how well his swing worked earlier in his career and how blessed he is to possess such exquisite touch around the greens.
The mentors have no doubt McLachlin will come back. He has always been upbeat and what he is "learning" now is nothing new.
"He can get it back very quickly," Head said. "He's not going to have to go search for it, because it's still there. He just has to understand what he's looking for and he does. He knows exactly what he's looking for.
"Now, slowly, he will have that confidence level built back up, get that fighting attitude to go beat everybody on the course. That will take a little time. But for Parker, getting back to playing great golf again will not take as much time as people think."
And he was playing great. In his first year as a pro he had five top-10 finishes on the Nationwide Tour, then earned his PGA Tour card with a 16th-place finish at Q-School. He won $628,000 as a rookie and $1.3 million the next year with the win, and start of the fateful swing change followed.
His scoring average rose to more than 72 in 2009 and 73 last year. McLachlin made 14 of 45 cuts and sometimes wondered if he "could have enough golf balls in my bag to go out on the course."
Those two years were full of introspection, doubt, patience, humility, frustration and ... utter joy. In the midst of the worst golf slump of his 31-year-old life, Parker and wife Kristen welcomed their first child, Makena Marie, in August.
"Everything on the golf course seemed like it couldn't have been worse," McLachlin said. "I had a couple nagging injuries. I never really felt 100 percent physically. Then I was not really sure where the golf ball was going, so I wasn't 100 percent mentally. It was a weird year on the golf course, not a fun one, but off the golf course it was the complete opposite. Things couldn't have been better. Kristy had a great pregnancy and we've got this amazing little daughter that just blows you away every day."
Makena kept her dad's priorities straight, and McLachlin, who hasn't made a tour cut since May, began trying to find his way back. His two-year exemption for winning ran out last year and he wasn't successful at Q-School. His options this year are much like Dean Wilson last year — as a former champion in his fifth PGA Tour season, he could get anywhere from five to 15 starts.
Wilson made it work, winning $832,000 and finishing 117th on the money list (the top 125 get their cards). He and McLachlin have talked at length since, with the Castle High grad emphasizing making the most of each start and focusing long-term.
McLachlin is beginning to trust his swing again, getting a feel for his tendencies and understanding his misses.
"When I step on the first tee, I need to feel I can beat people again. That mind-set is the first thing," he said.
His focus now is simply to get better every day, his way.
"That's my New Year's resolution," McLachlin said. "Be me and be free."