Agood friend of mine, the former PGA Tour player David Ogrin, who teaches golf in San Antonio, Texas, these days, asked me to explain why Matt Kuchar has so many high finishes and so few wins - especially in the majors?
"Too laid back and too nice, lacking in killer instinct or a higher gear to help get him over the line. He also might suffer from having a 'bad luck' gene," was my answer.
"Not a bad explanation." The Ogre said. "But, it's like this. We are all chemical beings with three hormones: DHEA, cortisol and adrenaline. The adrenal gland produces all three.
“There is enough evidence to suggest that emotional resilience is actually chemical in nature and if we wanted to do it we could measure it in our saliva.
"We all know adrenaline and what that does. For this explanation we will call adrenaline high to low. Then there are DHEA and cortisol, both essential hormones. While it is more complex than this - cortisol is associated with stress and prolonged stress damaging.
"Fortunately an antagonist to cortisol is DHEA, which is a precursor to both testosterone and estrogen, and other performance enhancing hormones. DHEA is banned by WADA. Since cortisol and DHEA are antagonistic there is a relationship, or correlation, or balance to these two compounds. Again this is simplistic but DHEA is associated with happiness.
"There is science to support Kuchar and the way he goes about playing golf, always smiling. The state of being that comes with a smile, and what it takes to smile keeps 'Kuuuch' in a place where his body is producing relatively low levels of cortisol, because he is not stressing.
“Matt has perfected the art of keeping himself in his happy, stress free place.
"When you have relatively high ratios of DHEA the emotional traits are euphoria, happiness, engagement, intense, composed, content, and quietly confident.
“That is from high adrenaline to low adrenaline. When you have high ratios of cortisol those emotions are: rage, anger, frustration, anxiety, disengaged, apathetic, and depressed. Again that was from high adrenaline to low adrenaline.
"How would you describe Matt Kuchar? Content, composed, intense, engaged because he practices being in that 'exact state of mind.' He is a DHEA positive guy and a cortisol negative guy. That is why I call him a DHEA producing machine.
If you want to know more about it reread Play Your Best Golf Now by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott (Chapter 7). On the other hand, with that new knowledge, I am able to understand better why the 20-minutes of running up and down the sand dunes at Birkdale, ironically, gave Jordan Spieth a rest from the anxiety that was plaguing him. It changed the chemical composition in his body. The nailed 6-iron at No. 14 restored his confidence and the rest is history.
It was more than a complete change in mindset. It was also a complete change in his chemical make up as a human being.
Smiling too much and being relaxed and stress free only gets you so far. Being 'DHEA" is all very well and a good tool most of the time but not all of the time. Fiery, emotional types have a better capacity to lift their game in a moment of crisis far more quickly than the DHEA, laid back type. That's why emotional golfers are generally better at match play than stroke play. They regard losing as 'death' and they fight like hell to avoid it.
You would think that Seve Ballesteros, never renowned for his straight hitting, would have loved it if every part of the golf course was closely mown. Instead, he used to say that if fairways were eliminated altogether he would have a better chance of winning.
Ever since he first mentioned them almost 100-years ago, Dr Alister MacKenzie’s thirteen principles of golf architecture have been widely accepted as THE checklist for evaluating golf courses.
No. 8 on Mackenzie's list: “There should be a complete absence of the annoyance and irritation caused by the necessity of searching for lost balls,” hasn't always been adopted in the way that was intended.
Taken literally, this principle would require an entire property to be mown close to fairway height, which is not practical or desirable.
The elimination (or near elimination) of maintained rough, and its replacement by fairway cut to the edge of wherever the golf course maintenance ends has its pros and cons.
For example how would the shorter hitter compete in such a set up against players who are always hitting wedges into the greens, even though it is often from rough?
Surely there must be a reward for being in the fairway? There isn’t the same premium now on hitting fairways as there was say, ten or twenty years ago. Mowing may be unnatural but it is essential for golf.
One advantage of mowing is closely-cut grass shows up any rumpled terrain better with natural depressions and bumps becoming more easily visible and pleasing to the eye.
In the early days, the mowing was done by sheep who did not do their work in straight lines or achieve consistency in their heights of cut. The 'natural look' that architects say they strive for is a bit of an exaggeration and misnomer. Years of applying fertilisers and watering destroys the natural look.