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Back from golf’s abyss, Todd basks in redemption

Brendon Todd completes rough road to PGA Tour winner's circle

If nothing is sweeter than redemption, then Brendon Todd must feel as if he has flung off the impossibly heavy cloak of unending darkness and stepped into the warm light of joy and relief. That, and a couple of really deep breaths.

Todd has returned from the abyss twice in his career, this time to win the Bermuda Championship on Sunday after three years of plumbing the depths of despair. He thought not so long ago that his career might be over.

Brendon TODD  Bridgestone Invitational World Golf Championship 2015
Brendon Todd completes a long odyssey to becoming a champion again on the PGA Tour.

But he shot 62 in the final round in Bermuda to win by four for his second PGA Tour victory. “I'm thrilled,” he said on Sunday. “Over the moon.”

Golf guarantees nothing to no one. Nearly all who play this sometimes cruel and confounding game have felt that when we’re playing well, we’ll never play badly again. And, when we’re playing badly, we’ll never play well again.

Surely, Todd has been back and forth between the two more times than any accomplished player would care to count. The 34-year-old came out of the University of Georgia in 2008 and won that year on what was known as the Nationwide Tour on his way to the PGA Tour.

But he failed to keep his card in 2009 and returned to the developmental tour when the bottom dropped out for the first time. In 2010, he missed the cut in all 13 of his Nationwide events. The next year, he missed 14 cuts in 24 events.

Todd made it back to the PGA Tour in 2012 after being medalist at Q-School, and two years later, he won the HP Byron Nelson. He eventually would rise to 40th in the world.

Then came the inexplicable. At the 2015 BMW Championship, Todd opened with 66-63 and was in the final group for the third round. At the fourth hole, Todd hit a 4-iron that sailed 50 yards right of the green and into some bushes that led to a triple-bogey 7. It was the beginning of his full-swing yips.

“I mean, I lost golf balls, I was hitting in hazards and hitting it right,” he said. “A lot of it was mental; some of it was the fact that I changed my swing and I basically battled that scary yip-right feeling all of '16.”

Todd played in 29 events on the PGA Tour in 2016, missing 25 cuts – at one point, 15 in a row. In 2017, he played nine events, missing eight cuts. He missed the cut in all eight of his events in 2018.

“It didn't really matter who I worked with, because I hadn't taken enough time off, I think, to calm my mind and just get away from it and say, What did I do when I did play good?” Todd said. “For some reason, I just couldn't figure out what it was.

“The thing I always tell people about the problem for me when I miss cuts out here is I don't get to play four rounds, and I build so much confidence from playing on the weekends and I lose so much confidence by shooting 72s on Thursday that I'm like bipolar out here. When I make cuts, I go crazy and play great, and when I miss cuts, I'm the worst player out here.”

A college teammate recommended a book by former PGA Tour player Bradley Hughes, an Australian who is now an instructor of note and works in South Carolina. Todd read the book, “The Great Ball Strikers,” and scheduled a lesson with Hughes.

Todd took six weeks off without any golf and did nothing but drills that Hughes directed. At the same time, Ward Jarvis, a former caddie on what now is known as the Korn Ferry Tour who works as a mental performance coach, put in a call to Todd. Jarvis is a stutterer and told Todd, “I think I know what you're going through. I have the same sort of mental breakdown that you have.”

Jarvis suggested that Todd read “The Phenomenon: Pressure, The Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life,” a book by former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel, who developed the yips while pitching and reinvented himself as an outfielder.

The work with Hughes and Jarvis led Todd to Monday qualify at the RSM Classic at the end of 2018. He shot 61 in the qualifier and made the cut in the main event, tying for 54th. It was a start. He made enough points in 2019 to make the Korn Ferry Finals. He tied for second at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, earning a PGA Tour card.

But winning again was something he couldn’t see anywhere on the blue Bermuda horizon when the tournament started. Just a year ago, Todd thought that his career had ended, and he talked with his manager about starting a business.

“To turn it around in one year and regain status and have a big win this like this is just a dream come true and hopefully a springboard to a really long, successful career out here,” he said.

On his flight home on Sunday night, he sat in a middle seat in coach class. As if he needed a reminder that no matter how high in this game you get or how low you can go, humility is always just around the next corner.