China’s Carl Yuan has quickly learned that the pursuit of perfection in a golf swing may actually be a hindrance as he seeks to finally establish himself on the PGA TOUR.
And he has to thank his wife, Cathy for steering him back to his old ways of playing the game, the Carl Yuan way, which is with lots of feel and funky follow-through swing actions.
The 26-year-old Yuan has struggled for most of his rookie season on the PGA TOUR before securing a season-best tied 18th finish at the RBC Canadian Open two weeks ago where he was also the 36-hole leader.
With some confidence restored, Yuan successfully Monday-qualified for this week’s US$20 million Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands which will present a wonderful opportunity for him to ride on his newfound momentum.
Yuan said he made tweaks to his game after gaining promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour but the changes messed up his swing and confidence after amassing more missed cuts than made cuts this season.
“I was aiming for more a stable golf swing and I made some technical adjustments, like the club trajectory and control of the club face. However, the results were not good. I think those adjustments didn’t fit me and I felt lost for a period of time,” said Yuan.
Then came Cathy’s influence. A professional golfer herself, and currently pursuing her goal to become a mental coach, Cathy encouraged her husband to play with “freedom” which he did so successfully in 2022 with one win and eight top-10s on the Korn Ferry Tour, which helped secure his PGA TOUR card for the first time.
“I tried to encourage him to find the feeling of freedom. I was trying to give him a hint or influence him to avoid playing too technical and avoid perfectionism. We did a lot of pre-shot routine practice before the RBC Canadian Open, and I think he did well,” she said.
“For professional players, if poor performance lasts for some time, it affects the mindset, and you may lose the love for golf. it is not easy. It is hard to make a change and I told him to not think too much about the result, and try to enjoy golf.”
In Canada, Yuan showed glimpses of his best golf, shooting opening rounds of 68 and 67 to hold the 36-hole lead for the first time before adding rounds of 74 and 70 to finish in the top-20. The good finish pushed him up to 164th on the FedExCup points list, with the top-125 retaining their cards for 2024.
Yuan’s funky follow-through swing action has drawn plenty of comments on social media but he explained it was a way for him to navigate his ball to the intended target. “I tried to play with ease (in Canada) and put attention on the route of my ball, but not on my swing. I tried to make my body feel the route and the result that I want,” he said.
Cathy added: “Some people think Carl has a really weird finish position. He is really relaxed, and follows the rhythm of his body.”
Yuan is hopeful he can produce a strong comeback in the coming weeks and finally show his true colours against the stars on the PGA TOUR. This week, he will have his game tested against a stellar line-up that includes defending champion Xander Schauffele, World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, newly-crowned U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark, reigning FedExCup winner Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Jon Rahm.
“The competition here definitely is more severe than on the Korn Ferry Tour. The course setup is also harder. As a TOUR newbie, I find a lot of challenges. At a new stage, I need to be better in every aspect. Sometimes this causes mental fluctuation for me, Yuan said.
Cathy has been undergoing mental coaching lessons with Patrick Cohn, who works with golf stars including Collin Morikawa.
“I’m always interested in psychology. I previously studied this from a player’s angle but now I want to learn from a coach’s angle. I have found it to be very interesting and I hope to develop a career as a mental coach and help more players and juniors to improve their mental game,” she said.
Yuan may very well be the first benefactor of his wife’s new career.