Ogilvy making beautiful music

Updated: August 16, 2006, 3:03 PM ET
By John Hawkins | Golf World

There was no grand epiphany, no flick of a mental switch from which Geoff Ogilvy became resilient enough to win golf's most grueling grindathons. No moment of clarity, no come-to-Jesus showdown in an Orlando hotel room, no kick in the pants from his wife or an hour of tough love from some sport psychologist. Nobody saved Ogilvy from himself except Ogilvy himself. In 5,000 words, give or take a sentence, he makes that perfectly clear.

And though many people will always believe Ogilvy didn't win the U.S. Open so much as Phil Mickelson lost it, this only reaffirms the misguided notion that Ogilvy needed help from someone else. He's not taking it personally. "Not a backdoor victory, but not a traditional one, either," he says. "What made it even more bizarre was that the entire gallery on the left side of the 18th hole thought Phil made a 5, not a 6. It was a very surreal scene. A lot of people had no idea what was going on [during the awards ceremony]. It was like there was a scorecard error or something."

Geoff Ogilvy
AP Photo/Morry GashOgilvy admits he "jumped ahead of a couple of guys" in becoming the latest Aussie to win a major.

Having spent the first six years of his pro career searching for results to qualify his enormous potential, having wallowed in enough toxic anger and destructive perspective to sink the battleship inside him, Ogilvy will happily hoist every trophy that lands in his opportune hands. The 29-year-old Aussie has turned 2006 into his breakthrough season, plowing through six opponents to claim the WGC-Accenture Match Play title in February, then scooping up Mickelson's fumble and racing the length of the field for the game-winning touchdown at Winged Foot.

Ogilvy is eighth in the World Ranking and fourth on the PGA Tour money list. Unlike the previous four first-time major champions (Michael Campbell, Todd Hamilton, Shaun Micheel and Ben Curtis), he has the complete package, making him the first young player in a while actually to open his superstar starter kit. "We're talking about one of the four or five most physically gifted players in golf," says Mickelson's longtime caddie, Jim Mackay. "It's such an overused term, but when you talk about God-given talent, that guy has it."

If dozens of Ogilvy's colleagues may seem worthy of such praise at one point or another -- the aforementioned Campbell isn't exactly skill-deficient -- this particular fan club didn't form overnight. "One of a very few guys out here without anything close to a weakness," adds one veteran tour pro. Another refers to Ogilvy as "David Toms with 20 more yards," citing both players' ability to pile up birdies and consistently execute routine up-and-downs while salvaging pars from more difficult positions.

"[Toms] hits it quite a bit straighter, and his wedge game is better than mine," Ogilvy says of the comparison. "I don't have anything I'm exceptionally good at, but I'm pretty decent in most areas. I'd give myself a 6 or 7 [on a 1-to-10 scale] in nearly every aspect of my physical golf, which would probably add up to a high all-around level, but there are any number of guys who are better than me in every aspect of the game."

Ogilvy also will tell you he "jumped the queue ahead of a couple of guys" in becoming the first Australian in 11 years to win a major, an assessment that is equal parts modest and debatable. Among his fellow countrymen, he hits the ball a lot better than erstwhile phenom Aaron Baddeley and has a tidier short game than ultra-heralded Adam Scott. Ogilvy manages his game better than Stuart Appleby, hits his long irons a mile high and ranks among the top 25 percent on the tour in total driving, birdie-conversion percentage, par-5 scoring, sand saves and putts per round.

"You see some guys win big tournaments and you say to yourself, 'How did that happen?' This guy isn't one of them," adds Olin Browne. "If there's an up-and-coming stud we should be talking about, it's Geoff Ogilvy."

So how did it happen? How did a player with so many outstanding qualities escape mention as one of the game's rising young stars until after he had reached a safe altitude? How did Ogilvy, a reformed self-pugilist whose bad temperament and vulnerable competitive psyche prevented him from making significant progress in his first four years on the tour -- he spent his first two pro seasons in Europe -- suddenly find it in himself to win two of the game's most mentally taxing tournaments?

The short answer is simple: Because Mickelson made a double bogey to end the U.S. Open. To spend any time with Ogilvy, however, is to discover an unusually introspective and opinionated guy who thinks outside the box and exhibits far more right-brain characteristics than most young players. It is an asset he has utilized to reshape his career, unlike talented peers such as Sergio Garcia, who seem plagued by a terminal case of self-denial, or Scott, whose intensity doesn't quite match his technical polish.

"It's easy to discuss [improvement] with Geoff because he's a very intelligent, easygoing person," says longtime mentor Dale Lynch. "People have expressed surprise that he won [the U.S. Open], but I've worked with a lot of talented young players, and he's the only one who has gotten better every year. You could chart his progress on a graph, and a big part of that comes from his intelligence. For every mistake he makes, he learns from it."

Within months after earning his 2001 PGA Tour card on his first trip to qualifying school, Ogilvy was turning heads with his natural skill. It was his own head that quickly defined his reputation -- the rookie might have led the tour in slamming his bag after making a bogey. He had an excellent chance to win the Honda Classic that spring, but like a number of others, failed to par the 72nd hole, allowing Jesper Parnevik to sneak off with a victory.

For the next 2 years, Ogilvy's only real whiff of the Sunday afternoon hunt came at the '02 Michelob Championship. "If I was playing well leading into a tournament, I'd stand on the first tee expecting to play well, then start two over after eight [despite] hitting good shots," he says. "Things wouldn't go my way -- a couple of putts would lip out or something -- then I'd hit one bad shot that plugs in a bunker and I'd make a double. I had a hard time accepting that sort of stuff."

More than his propensity for displaying rage, Ogilvy blames the slow start to his career on his ability to manufacture crisis and the inability to deal with it. He'd shoot a 67 but bogey the 18th, stomp off, seethe through lunch, rush out to the practice ground and pound balls for three hours, punishing himself emotionally and grooving a flaw in his swing. It wasn't a recipe for success then, nor is it now.

"For him to compete effectively, he's better off with limited time on the range and playing a lot of holes," Lynch says. "And a lot of chipping and pitching -- things that are creative, that get him to think and enjoy it. Beating balls is not stimulating enough."

It's a formula that works for a lot of players, including right-brain guys such as Phil Mickelson and David Duval, at least when Duval was on top of his game. Ogilvy also had to work on his interpretation of reality. Far more often than not, he would leave the course dwelling on the glitches in his round -- the bogey at the sixth, the missed 4-footer at the 13th -- regardless of his score. "On a negative- positive scale of 1 to 10, I'm still probably only a 6, but a couple of years ago, I was a 1," he says. "When I played well, I'd find a reason why it wasn't any good."

Between the ropes, the problem was located between his ears. "You start realizing that if somebody talked to me like I talked to me, I wouldn't be friends with them," Ogilvy adds. "There was a [lengthy] period where I'd get back to the hotel and say to myself, 'Jeez, you are useless, you talked yourself into playing badly today,' then I'd go out and do it again the next week."

At some point -- certainly no earlier than the end of 2004 -- Ogilvy grew tired of beating himself up. He began studying the common traits of the world's best players, particularly Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, and noticed a combination of personal honesty and professional optimism that seemed far more productive than his own pernicious pattern. He never heard Woods offer a dismal review of his round. He never saw Furyk waste a shot because he was frustrated or victimized by a bad break.

Like everyone else, Ogilvy watched Woods respond to a bad swing with a blaze of profanity, but by the time Tiger got to his ball, the anger was gone. Time to get back to work. Ogilvy didn't have that gear. "Three-quarters of the tour would disagree with me, but I think golf psychology is really simple," he says. "It just takes a while to figure out. The complicated thing is making it simple, if that makes any sense. It's like giving up smoking. It doesn't matter how many people try to help you or how many aids you use -- it doesn't work until you want to give it up."

This explains Ogilvy's pronounced aversion to a mental coach. He had gotten himself into this mess. He would get himself out of it. He started listening to people who kept telling him how gifted he was. He stopped going through the formal process of reading putts and identifying a line -- Ogilvy even abandoned the practice of picking out a spot on the green. Instead, he surveys the terrain and tries to get comfortable over the ball, then lets his instincts and feel take over.

He also became more serious about learning how to play the guitar, a hobby that would fulfill his creative urges and go a long way toward helping him forget about the bogey at the sixth. "It would be interesting if you just gave somebody the instrument and told them never to look at a guitar magazine or get lessons on how to play it -- you just had to work it out yourself," Ogilvy says. "You'd probably end up a much better player because you wouldn't have any preconceived notions on how to do it. It would be all about the sound instead of the technique."

After just one finish better than 10th in 26 starts in 2004, Ogilvy began the metamorphosis that led him to the awards ceremony on the 18th green at Winged Foot. A resident of Scottsdale since coming to the United States, he joined Whisper Rock GC, where good golfers come to play and great ones are treated like everyone else: Very well. Among a membership that includes Mickelson, Fred Couples, Wayne Gretzky and John Elway, Ogilvy "is one of the most popular, down-to-earth guys we have," says a Whisper Rock regular.

He also got married at the end of 2004 -- Ogilvy's wife, Juli, is the sister of ABC analyst Judy Rankin's daughter-in-law -- and the Ogilvys are expecting their first child in October.

In February 2005, Ogilvy finally gave birth to his first tour victory, the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, then went more than six months (17 starts) without missing a cut. A tie for fifth at last year's British Open and a T-6 at the PGA accommodated the premise that he performed better in big tournaments, which require a higher level of concentration and little tolerance for emotional recklessness.

Ogilvy wasn't quite ready for center stage, but he wasn't sitting in the 47th row, either. "Like a lot of talented kids, his [anger] was born from his natural competitiveness," Lynch says. "He wanted to compete and win, and when things weren't going the way he wanted, his frustration level would go through the roof. He certainly would show that frustration and anger at times, and there certainly were times when it affected his play. You wouldn't recognize him on the course as compared to two years ago."

Not that anyone recognized him much at all until recently. Ogilvy's summer has been a totally different deal as the U.S. Open champion, beginning with an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," where the Aussie's responsibilities included reading the Top 10 list. "I got out of the limo and all the autograph seekers were there for Adam Sandler," Ogilvy says. "They were all quite disappointed because I wasn't him."

This mistaken identity stuff is getting old. Winning another major championship would resolve any related problems.

John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine