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Small changes have led to big results for Taylor

Nick Taylor Nick Taylor - The Canadian Press

One thing Nick Taylor learned after winning the RBC Canadian Open is that the following week comes with a lot of extras.

Extra time with sponsors, extra time with media, extra time answering well-wishers. All of that comes at the expense of a player’s normal preparation. For Taylor, then, the days leading into the first round of this week’s Genesis Invitational have been more about rest than dialing in his game.

“That's probably the biggest thing to try to do for myself just because I know my golf game is in a good spot,” said Taylor from Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. “The pro‑am is probably going to be the first time I'll see the golf course, but that will give me a good feel how it's playing and kind of go from there. I’m just going to get as much rest as I possibly can.”

Even with the rest, the Canadian was still riding high after logging his fourth career victory at the WM Phoenix Open in a playoff over Charley Hoffman. Unlike his win in Canada last June, his family was there to help celebrate this time, with his wife, Andie, and their children, Charlie and Harper, coming on to the green for hugs.

He also got to go home after collecting his trophy, which gave him a chance to relax. Taylor spends his winters in the Phoenix area.

But what about a celebration? After all, PGA Tour victories don’t happen that often and Taylor is known for his rather unusual ways of marking wins.

After his victory at Pebble Beach in 2020, he went back to his hotel and did laundry. When he won the RBC Canadian Open, he lived it up by going to the drive-through at McDonald’s where he took a congratulatory call from Wayne Gretzky.

This time, being at home made it somewhat easier, although also calmer.

“Celebrations change a bit with a four-year‑old and a nine-month‑old,” he said. “We were at the course maybe until about 8ish. Got home, ordered some pizza, had a couple drinks and pretty much called it a night. Nothing overzealous. Probably just the day alone, playing 30-some-odd holes and a long day, there wasn't much energy left at all, so being home was a nice treat.”

The fact that Taylor has been celebrating more regularly of late is no fluke. He’s put in a lot of work on this game the past couple of years and he’s noticed that effort starting to pay off.

It all started with a team meeting he had a couple of years ago where he decided what he had wasn’t working and changes needed to be made.

“Really since the fall of '22 we kind of had a roadmap of where we wanted to get to,” stated Taylor, “and since then it hasn't really been changes, it's been sticking to the same things that we know will get me to where I want to be.”

While most parts of his arsenal have risen in quality, he pointed to his putting as the biggest area of improvement over the past few years.

That correlates to when he started working with short-game coach Gareth Raflewski, who resides in London, Ont. Raflewski made a name for himself working primarily with LPGA Tour players and helped Jin Young Ko rise to No. 1 in the world. In recent years, he’s added several male players to his roster and every one of them has seen improvements in their games.

The work with Taylor included changing his grip to the claw and adopting a new ball position that, at first, was extremely uncomfortable. From there, it was hitting putt after putt after putt. The drills, he said, were monotonous but also effective.

Before a tournament round, Taylor will practice putting for 15 minutes. On non-tournament days it could be up to 45 minutes and when he’s at home, it can extend more than an hour a day. Clearly, it’s paid off.

“Putting I think would be an easy one to pick out, but I think it's been a lot of things.” Taylor said when asked what’s become better in his game “I think speed control has probably been the biggest improvement in a sense where I'm three‑putting way less and making more of those kind of mid‑range putts.”

That was certainly the case on Sunday when he rolled in five birdie putts in his last six holes, all of them from within 15 feet but none of them gimmees. At the end of the week, Taylor was first in Strokes Gained: Putting, picking up almost nine shots on the field on the greens.

He’s gone from a barely mediocre putter to an exceptional one. It’s early in the season, but the improvement for the Abbottsford, B.C., product is clear to see. He currently sits 10th in Strokes Gained: Putting while back in 2020 he finished the season in 114th place.

While he continues to work diligently on his putting drills, he is also turning to his driver, hoping to make that more consistent as well. For Sunday’s final round, Taylor only found six of 14 fairways but was still able to find most of the greens. He knows that won’t always been the case.

Data Golf, the Canadian-based, deep-dive analytics site, noted that while Taylor shot 65 on Sunday, he gained 4.2 strokes on the field. At the same time, he lost two strokes with his tee shots, fifth worst in the field.

“When I drive it well, I have some of my best events,” he stated. “That's kind of our biggest focus right now, is trying to clean it up just a little.”

The “we” he’s referring to are swing coaches Mark McCann, an Atlanta-based instructor, and Ryan Holley, a PGA of Canada professional who guides Taylor when he’s home in Abbottsford in the summer.

They have been doing little things that may seem obvious but need reinforcement. Things such gripping the club in exactly the same way every time.

It’s evident in his pre-shot routine where Taylor takes the club and spends a few moments to position his hands to his liking all before he gets set behind the ball.

When those changes kick in and he has a good driving day, the scores drop.

That was the case in the first round of the Phoenix tournament. He missed just one fairway and shot 60.

“I don't know if I expected 60 out here, but again, just reminded me to stick to what we're doing and be as confident as I could,” Taylor stated. “That first day was probably – I putted out of my mind, but I drove it incredible, and I kind of got back to that the last nine holes [Sunday] which gave me some more opportunities.”

The physical aspects of his game are only a part of the overall plan. There is also the mental side. It’s another area where he has grown and improved. Unlike most players, the tougher the situation, the better he seems to play. Some golfers wilt under pressure. Taylor thrives on it.

“You work on mindset, you work on breathing at times, but I think dating back to even junior golf when I've been in those positions, I want to be in that position,” he stated. “I kind of feel more locked in, whatever it is. I've been able to pull off shots in those scenarios and I think maybe I've been doing it long enough where I have confidence that I can pull it off and I don't have the side-tracking thoughts or negative thoughts in there.”

In his world, there’s no thought of what might happen if he misses; it’s all about the confidence of making the shot. Being a part of the chase allows his game to rise, as evidenced by the way he tracked down Hoffman over the final few holes.

The more difficult the situation, it seems, the more he’s able to elevate his play. It’s something that might come in handy at an event such as the Presidents Cup.

One of the key cogs in Taylor’s golf machine, from both a physical and mental side, is the guy carrying his bag.

David Markle was the first person to hug Taylor after his win in Phoenix and in Canada (and the guy to rescue Adam Hadwin from the security guard tackle). For the past two years, he has been providing a reassuring boost of confidence and refocusing of his boss’s attention. He is also great at reading putts. Together they have formed a remarkable duo.

Markle’s constant reassurance and reminders of technique have helped Taylor maintain his overall game.

What’s next for Taylor will come one week at a time. He knows winning is possible every time he tees it up. That includes the four majors, for which he is exempt.

How much better he can be is something he’s about to find out.