Aaron Wise almost never became a golfer, a PGA Tour event winner, the 2018 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year… and with all those things, a sportsman who had to drop into the very darkest recesses of spirit, belief and psychology to get it all back.
“At high school my tennis coach was telling me to quit golf, and my golf coach was telling me to quit tennis – I was conflicted for about 10 minutes, then made the right decision!” he tells RSNG.
After a whirlwind early passage of form having turned pro aged 21, Wise clinched the AT&T Byron Nelson in Texas.
His ascent into the top division of golfing greats looked assured, but a catastrophic loss of form followed across the latter part of 2019 and 2020. The game he had relied upon had deserted him… perhaps tennis might have been a better option?
Wind forward to 2022, and Wise – an American born in Cape Town but whose golfing education was formulated at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Canada – has built himself back to eclipse his highest previous world ranking of 49th, with four top-ten finishes and putting himself into contention in the US Open…
RSNG You have your game firing again – that must feel really good?
AARON WISE, FORMER PGA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR “I feel like I'm in a sweet spot where I'm hitting the ball good, I'm chipping great, and my putting is kind of coming back into form. I'm seeing some good numbers around some really tough golf courses and it’s a relief, as well as being a thrill for me.
RSNG It’s been a tough and grueling few years. Would you agree?
AARON WISE “I would agree with that. It hasn’t been an easy ride but I’m not the first to go through it and I definitely won’t be the last.
“I must say I am enjoying my golf again now. Everything seems to have come together at the right time – the crowds are back, I have some form, and I’m in a much happier place.”
RSNG How much do the crowds help?
AARON WISE “A huge amount, particularly when you have been used to pretty partisan support, or because you have been a rookie there has been added interest in you. When Covid hit and we went back to empty golf courses I found it really difficult. Not only was my game off, but I was missing feeding some sort of energy off the crowd, and that’s something I’ve loved to do throughout my career.
“The combination of those things really tested me, but every storm passes. For the rest of 2022 now I’m really looking forward to continuing making improvements, to get myself in the reckoning and to disturb those upper leaderboard positions again, and I’m confident I will.”
RSNG Can you pinpoint where things started to go wrong?
AARON WISE “I think it was two-fold for me. Firstly, it’s just human nature to believe that what has happened for a good while will continue to happen. In 2018 I had an incredible year, and winning my first PGA Tour title felt like the biggest thing possible.
“Things started to dip a bit in 2019 but I still finished 17th at the Masters, five shots off Tiger. Hitting a 67 on the final round was incredible.
“It’s funny, that tournament was one of the turning points that actually saw my form decrease. I had shot 75 in the opening round and I felt I was far too light on ball strike – I just wasn’t getting the same power as the guys around me. Perhaps at that point there were a few things beginning to go a bit loose in my game.”
I had become a better ball striker, so I worked hard on that and in the process lost my putting and my chipping – that was difficult and I realized it too late
RSNG So what went wrong?
AARON WISE “Essentially I wanted to push to the next level. I was around 70 in the world rankings and my focus was to break through the top 50, so even though I’d experienced success I wasn’t in the mindset to let myself savor it and enjoy it. I just wanted to move on and win the next thing.
“I had a lot of success young, coming out from Canada where I did great in my rookie year and sometimes you just work on trying to get as good at some aspects of your game only to see a step backwards in other ways. So it was one of those deals where I had to realize what went off, and fix it.
“When I first came out I wasn't the best ball striker but I was incredible around the greens, incredible on the greens, and I figured in order to play these tough golf courses – the Majors, WGCs – I had become a better ball striker. So I worked hard on that and in the process I kind of lost my putting and kind of lost my chipping a little bit. That was difficult and I realized it too late.
“What compounded things was that sometimes, as a golfer and as a person, it’s easy to take things for granted. I had experienced well over a decade of almost constant success, and even when you are stepping up into the big leagues, you expect that to continue.
“And to be fair to you, it did at the AT&T in Texas. I think sometimes it’s the way you finish a tournament that is as important when it comes to how you assess what you have achieved, and in that case I shot a final round 65 which just blew my mind.
“It was a big thrill, it was a good crowd, and I felt my game had come together perfectly.”
I've gotten tougher, you know going through bad stuff, bad tournaments, whatever it is… it makes you stronger and it makes you tougher
RSNG But when you did realize the parts of your game that were suffering, were you able to fix them?
AARON WISE “Well to find the time and the perspective to get those back has been a big thing, because neglecting those effectively meant neglecting two-thirds of my game. That's been a big focus for me this last year or so, to get that back on track.”
RSNG How can you ensure you don’t go back to that place?
AARON WISE “If anything I've just gotten tougher. You know, going through bad stuff, bad tournaments, whatever it is… it makes you stronger, it makes you tougher.
“I feel like I've learnt from all those bad breaks and am enjoying again the little things that come with playing well.”
RSNG What is the take-out?
AARON WISE “Mostly, it’s: be patient. Let your game develop in a natural way, take it one step at a time, respect both your opponents and the limitations of your own ability, and realize that playing well can only come from gradual, sensible, measured progression.
“I don’t know a single sport in which you can get a result using anything other than preparation, repetition, learned practice and patience. You cannot force it.”
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