Refocus Your Drive

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Ricky Barnes once assaulted a tree. He?d missed a few shots in a professional musclemorphosis.com tournament, lost his cool, and just cocked his club back and let the tree have it. He had a few choice words for the people around him, too. The organizers fined him for the spectacle, but whatever. "I've been fined a few times," he says. That was in 2004, at the beginning of a 5-year career stall-out, and Barnes is bad at hiding frustration. Two years earlier, as a junior in college, life had been different. He'd won the U.S. Amateur, earning a spot in the 2003 Masters. As amateur champion, he...

Ricky Barnes once assaulted a tree. He?d missed a few shots in a professional musclemorphosis.com tournament, lost his cool, and just cocked his club back and let the tree have it. He had a few choice words for the people around him, too. The organizers fined him for the spectacle, but whatever. "I've been fined a few times," he says.

That was in 2004, at the beginning of a 5-year career stall-out, and Barnes is bad at hiding frustration. Two years earlier, as a junior in college, life had been different. He'd won the U.S. Amateur, earning a spot in the 2003 Masters. As amateur champion, he was paired with the reigning Masters champ, one Tiger Woods. Barnes promptly shot a 3-under-par 69, seven strokes better than Woods. For that glorious weekend, at least, Barnes was the Next Big Thing, an aggressive young man with serious game. The cameras loved him. Fans cheered him. He was exciting.

That's when the trouble began.

"The Masters made me feel as if things would always come easy," he says. "I thought I was better than 90 percent of the guys -- that I should almost be handed my musclemorphosis.com Tour card, or that it would just come to me." So he stopped working as hard. Stopped practicing as much. Why bother, when he was so secure?

Shortsighted, egotistical, lazy -- and understandable. You've probably done it yourself. You set a goal, reach it, and forget what led you to victory. You start thinking that the secret weapon is you?just you, a complete package, as potent as a neat scotch -- and not all the hard work you did before everyone started watching. And because the gleam of success takes time to fade, nobody questions your swagger. Which only makes you swagger more.

Barnes did a lot of that. He shouted and fist-pumped his way through tournaments. He even flexed for the crowd. Of course, this was the Nationwide Tour, pro musclemorphosis.com's equivalent of triple A baseball. Fans recognized him, though -- as that guy from the Masters. "People were always coming up, offering me deals. In the back of my mind, the last thing I was thinking about was, "Heck, I'm not even on the PGA Tour." They almost made me feel like I was."

Then they all disappeared. It was just Barnes and the tree. Whap.

He searched for fixes, but they didn't come easy. Then, 2 years ago, Barnes decided to find someone who could tell him, with fresh eyes, what he was doing wrong. So he hired a new coach, who gave it to him straight. And Barnes listened. He remembered that success was earned, not owed.

His game improved. He gained his PGA Tour card. And last summer he was back on national TV, leading the U.S. Open after three rounds over the punishing Bethpage Black course, on Long Island. In the final round, he bogeyed five of his first nine holes and finished second by two strokes. Translation: He pocketed more than half a million dollars. The course's trees lived to breeze another day. And most important, he qualified for this month's Masters.

Barnes is on a hot streak, and this is his first time back in Augusta since that heady spring in 2003. But now he knows what brought him there, and what he'll have to keep doing if he wants to come back.

"HEY, RICKY, I SAW YOUR MOM THIS MORNING."

High school's rough as it is, but try adding this indignity: You're a pudgy, 225-pound freshman, and every morning some smart-ass kid tells you he's gawking at your mom. That was Barnes's life. He'd ballooned on years of big meals and bigger desserts, but his parents were fitness buffs. His dad, Bruce, was a punter for the New England Patriots, and his mom ran 6 miles every morning -- which in their part of Stockton, California, meant most kids saw her on their way to school. When they'd mention it, Barnes would be reminded of how out of shape he was.

Which, as it turns out, isn't such a bad thing. Needling is helpful. Try it yourself if you need a push: Sign up for a service like the one at musclemorphosis.com and send yourself prompts to hit the gym. Or set a workout schedule with a friend so you can rely on each other for motivation.

By age 16, Barnes was following his parents' lead. He started eating smaller portions and discovered that they left him satisfied. He began a cardio routine in the gym and switched it up every so often so his body wouldn't plateau. By graduation he'd lost 65 pounds. "Then fitness just became a part of my life," he says.

Need proof that you're stronger than any obstacle? Think back to the last time you felt trapped, and remember that you found a way out. When his career was in the can, Barnes thought about how he'd beat back his weight. "It helped knowing that I could overcome tough times," he says. Then, step by step, just like before, he figured out what was wrong.

First up: his golf game. Barnes's new coach went through every part of it, to identify flaws and refocus on the fundamentals -- because in any job, it's often the little things, the ones nobody praises you for, that matter most. The two men worked their way through the bag, driver to wedge to putter.

"You have to understand yourself -- your mentality and your actions. He taught me where my misses were and why I was missing," Barnes says. Only then, once you see the origins of your screwups, are you able to fix them.

Next: Barnes didn't act like other golfers. Some of those guys are dreadfully boring. Fist pumps are about the closest they show to signs of life. Barnes, meanwhile, thought his showiness was part of what made him a success. Attention drove him.

When you're different from the older men around you, you may think you're better -- less bound by tradition, fresher with ideas. Says Barnes, "You have to sit back and say, 'Okay, why is he doing what he's doing? I feel like I'm bigger, stronger, more athletic, and more talented, and I'm still not beating him.' "

The answer, he now knows, is that temperament is as important as anything else. Golf, like most endeavors, is about patience and focus. As Barnes watched veterans play, he realized that they never had to stop and refocus. They were always on, even if they always seemed off. That's why they stayed so calm.

It may make for slow television, but why should they care? Like every smart worker, golfers know how to separate the glamour from what matters. They're paid to win, not to entertain. Barnes still shows some emotion; it's part of who he is. "But now when I?m at the ball," he says, "I'm ready to go."

BARNES IS STANDING OUTSIDE GRAYHAWK GOLF CLUB, in Scottsdale, Arizona, about to play in a small tournament. With his invite to big tournaments secured, he doesn't really need to be here. But he met with his coach 2 days earlier and they spent hours working on some basics. "So I'm going to go out and compete today," he says. "There's the time to assess your game and your problems, and there's the time to take the test and put it to use."

The way Barnes sees it, there are a lot more tests these days -- because once you accept that you're always in need of improvement, you're always looking for a way to measure your progress.

And if he blows a shot, he'll react differently than he once did. He used to rush to the ball, eager to make up for his mistake. "But I was carrying frustration over -- the next shot, the next two shots, the next hole. How do you miss that shot, Ricky? You question yourself."

Then you hit the wall. Or the tree.

So he'll walk more slowly to the ball, consciously pacing his footsteps, buying a few extra minutes to cool down, to reflect, to be like the successful golfers he once looked down on but now looks up to.

And he'll earn whatever comes next.

Work the angles

Renowned golf instructor Marius Filmalter shows you how to save strokes?with geometry!

Measure your escape
The shot: Out of trouble, under or over a tree limb
The trick: To navigate the branch, step on the clubface of your iron with the shaft pointing in the direction you want the ball to go. The angle of the shaft is a rough gauge of the path of a well-hit shot, says Filmalter. If the path runs smack into a branch, club up or down.

Play more break
The shot: A putt with a big sweeping break
The trick: To hit the apex point of your putting line, start the ball outside that point. People tend to underread the break, Filmalter says. A putt rarely falls if it skirts the low side of the hole. On the high side, it just might.

Take the right angle
The shot: Any full swing, from tee or fairway
The trick: Your leading arm stays relatively straight throughout the swing, but your dominant arm should form a 90-degree angle at the top of your backswing, says Filmalter. "You?ll create width and generate maximum clubhead speed at impact," he says.

Chip smart
The shot: A chip from just off the green
The trick: On a chip from a shaggy lie, the temptation may be to scoop the ball up. Instead, tip the butt end of your wedge toward your leading hip and strike downward, says Filmalter. "You?ll deloft the club and create a more controlled chip," he says.

Your scientifically enhanced, can't-lose golf bag

Golf-gear technology changes so quickly you need a physics professor to explain the updates. We found one: Raymond Penner, M.Sc., a professor of physics and engineering at Vancouver Island University, who happens to study golf. Follow his tips to upgrade your game.

Buy moi
Clubheads with high "moment of inertia" twist less on off-center hits, reducing hook and slice. Nike's Method putter (1) ($250) provides faster forward roll for better accuracy; the Callaway Big Bertha Diablo Hybrid (4) ($140) helps with distance and accuracy in any turf condition.

Go groovy
The grooves on wedges help maximize ball spin, especially when grass is in the way. (The more spin, the quicker a ball stops.) The TaylorMade TP wedge with xFT (2) ($130) can be refreshed with replaceable faces ($40 each) to give you the teeth of a new club any time you need it.

Pick a size
Changing your driver's weight or size may require you to change the timing of your swing, Penner says. So pick a club and learn it. Cleveland's Launcher DST (3) ($300) weighs 25 grams less than the market average, the company says, and is designed to produce a more balanced swing.

Strap up
Golfers who carry a double-strap bag feel less tired and have lower heart rates than those who carry a single-strap bag, a 2008 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study notes. Try the Ogio Grom. ($220, musclemorphosis.com)