27 Jul 2022 | Professional golf |

Davis looks to recapture those Detroit feels

by Australian Golf Media

Cam Davis artwork

By Tony Webeck

Victory at a particular venue invariably brings with it an enhanced sense of confidence.

There is a feeling of familiarity and comfort with the golf course. The atmosphere of the city puts you in the right frame of mind. There are good vibes that you tap into with each subsequent visit.

The stage for Cam Davis’s Rocket Mortgage Classic defence in Detroit this week remains the same; it is the player who has changed.

Designed by Donald Ross in 1916, the Detroit Golf Club layout is just how he left it following a stunning conclusion to last year’s tournament, but how Davis plays it in 2022 may be different.

Statistics identified by his coach, Khan Pullen, showed that in the past year Davis had lost ground in driving distance.

Acknowledging the need for speed, he incorporated the Stack System weighted training aid brought to prominence by Matthew Fitzpatrick’s US Open win as part of his training program. But it was a change to the Titleist TSR3 driver prior to the Travelers Championship in May that brought those gains to the golf course.

In a big way.

At the Memorial three weeks earlier, Davis hit just 37.5 per cent of fairways and averaged 303 yards off the tee. In his second start after the driver change, the 27-year-old averaged 330 yards and hit 66.07 per cent of fairways as he finished tied for eighth at the John Deere Classic.

Sixth at the Barracuda Championship was followed by a tie for 16th at last week’s 3M Open where Davis averaged 322 yards off the tee and again hit 66.07 per cent of fairways. (As a point of reference, Rory McIlroy is this year averaging 319.4 yards off the tee and hitting 59.94 per cent of fairways.)

Suddenly, a game that had become something of a struggle in the wake of his breakthrough PGA TOUR win was offering up birdie opportunities at almost every turn.

And a possible change in strategy for his title defence.

“There are some shots that he can take on this year that he didn’t have last year,” explains Pullen, who is with Davis in Detroit this week, partly to help celebrate caddie Andrew Tschudin’s 50th birthday on Tuesday.

“He’s looking at it in a little bit of a different way. The distance that he’s driving it now, there are a couple of extra bunkers he can carry and a couple of extra tee shots that he may take on.

“Bryson (DeChambeau) won this event the year before Cam and he was hitting driver to places on this course that nobody else was hitting it to. He nearly turned it into a driver-wedge course.

“There are a few cross bunkers, a few dogleg holes where if you’ve got that length with your driver in carry – which Cam’s is – there are corners you can cut or a couple of extra bunkers that you can take on.”

Davis, Tschudin and Pullen walked the course on Monday, Davis drawing in those good vibes from his most memorable shots from a year ago while evaluating how his added length might influence his options.

He’s hitting it further, his form is better than this time last year and he’s hungry for more.

“To be honest, the course hasn’t changed other than the driver going a little further,” says Davis.

“If I can hit the ball with my irons the same way as last time, that’s all I could ask for.

“You’ve been working really hard for a long time to finally achieve (that first win).

“That is just monumental for someone coming through, to know you can do it, to know you can win a tournament.

“It’s all a dream up until it actually happens.

“I’m really looking forward to trying to make it happen again. I don’t want to just stop at one but it’s been just a really cool progression in my career.”

Yet to get back to this point, Davis first had to face up to a hard truth. ‘The message just wasn’t getting in’ In hindsight, there had to be a let-down.

Without a top-10 finish to his name since The American Express in January, Davis was three shots back with just two holes to play at the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic.

He holed his bunker shot for eagle on 17 to draw within one. A birdie at 18 earned him a spot in the playoff with Joaquin Niemann and Troy Merritt.

For five holes he blistered shot after shot, missing chances to win with birdies at each of the first four playoff holes before Merritt’s par miss at the fifth saw Davis win his first PGA TOUR title in his 71st attempt.

A 26-year-old fighting each week to stay afloat now had a two-year guarantee on the PGA TOUR life raft, an internal release of pressure that even his coach didn’t immediately pick up on.

“Neither of us probably really knew until a little period after… and I don’t think he truly admitted to it as early as what I suspected,” says Pullen of a drop-off in training intensity.

Between his win at Detroit and his debut appearance at The Masters this April, Davis had just one top-10 finish at the limited-field Sentry Tournament of Champions, a result Pullen describes as an “outlier” given his next best result was a tie for 27th.

The pair were reunited for the first time in almost two years at the WM Phoenix Open in February, but it took an honesty session over the phone before a plan was hatched to get Davis contending again.

“We had a detailed phone call during the NSW Open because I was at Concord Golf Club when I spoke with him,” reveals Pullen, the Golf NSW High Performance Manager who also coaches Epson Tour winner Grace Kim.

“The win, while it was great, he kind of got a bit comfortable and it took a little while for him to admit that.

“We probably didn’t sit down early enough and reset some goals, but I don’t think he was quite ready for it to be honest, to have that conversation.

“A lot of the times you have to wait until they are ready to receive the message you’re trying to give them.

“The message just wasn’t getting in. You have to wait until they own it and finally get on board with it.”

More than resetting goals, Davis and Pullen deconstructed exactly how the 2017 Australian Open champion wanted to play the game and established a practice regime to match.

A three-shot driver armoury evolved into an ability to flat-out thump it with every swing. He committed to continuing to shape his iron shots. His scoring clubs from 8-iron down were dialled into specific distances with lower, more controlled trajectories. And he chose specific shots around the green to improve his short game efficiency.

That clarity has fed into his practice during off weeks, helps to eliminate doubt as he executes on the golf course and provides a basis for self-maintenance when issues arise from time to time.

“He was reactive rather than proactive around how he was managing his game,” Pullen explains.

“Now it’s proactive. He can adapt certain things to what the course may require but he’s not going away from his strengths and how he plays the game.

“When he had a real clarity about how he should play through the bag, we laid out what that looked like in practice in his off weeks and how he maintains those skills.

“He was practising how he wanted to play the game and the maintenance of his skills has stayed a lot better because of the consistency of doing that week in, week out.” ‘A very pleasant surprise out of nowhere’ As low as 142nd after The Masters, Davis enters his Detroit title defence 72nd in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and Eligibility Points List, a list adjusted to remove players suspended for participating in unauthorised events.

With just two events left in the regular season, Davis needs a high finish to push into the top 70 who qualify for week two of the Playoffs.

Given the form he has displayed of late, climbing into the top 30 who qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta is not beyond question.

“He’s played enough good golf to win the past couple of weeks,” Pullen adds.

“It’s just that he has a couple of bad shots through poor mental preparation into a particular shot which has led to too many double bogeys.

“If you look at the birdies and eagles he’s making, he’s making just as many as the winners. “It was touch and go at the start of the year whether he’d even be playing [in the Playoffs]. He was sitting around the top 125 for a while but his form’s changed a little bit now.

“Where Cam is sitting you want to push up as far as you can to make it as comfortable as you can to get into that second week and go from there.”

Conceding that setting lofty goals in the past has brought with it more pressure than motivation, Davis has not yet dared eye off one of the spots on Trevor Immelman’s International team for the Presidents Cup.

His focus remains very much in the here and now.

“I feel like it would probably be a very pleasant surprise out of nowhere if it does come along that way, but I would absolutely love it,” Davis says of a Presidents Cup call-up.

“I just want to play as well as I possibly can and hopefully get a pleasant surprise. Keep on putting my name up there, keep on churning out good results and trying to get a win.

“I feel like if I keep doing that, then things will take care of itself.”

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