HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- Alabama senior Cory Whitsett didn't think his final year would be this way. Fresh off a national championship and playing the best golf of his career, he came into the year with high expectations. That was until this summer, when something happened to his swing.
“My swing got all out of whack,” he said. “I kind of got going on the wrong track a little bit.”
It would turn into a year of frustration for Whitsett, who said its the most adversity he's faced in his career.“The game's not been as good this year. I haven't been as good this year,” he said.
Whitsett, a highly sought after recruit entering college, lived up to the hype his at Alabama, culminating in a banner year as a junior. He recorded the lowest average score of his career and finishing the season under-par, at minus eight overall. Whittset finished his career year by winning the clinching match against Illinois in the national championship match, giving Alabama its first national championship.
“I had a great spring last year,” he said. “It was little disappointing the way i came out and played this year.”
This season, Whitsett experienced his first season without an individual first place at Alabama. His frustrations were compounded by the fact his teammates had the best season of their collegiate careers. For Whitsett, the struggles were something he'd hardly experienced before.
“I've been lucky enough to have a lot success at every level i've competed at,” he said. He's spent extra time practicing and working with his swing coach this season, but for much of the season to no avail. “I was seeing my teacher but i was not interpreting things correctly and just thinking too much on the golf course."
While waiting for his swing to come around, he used the opportunity to fine tune his short game. Unable to drive it how he had in years past, he knew that working on his putting and chipping, mechanically simpler than driving, would help give bring his confidence back. The improvements to his short game helped relax his mind on the course, he said. His struggles were a mental battle.
“I was just thinking too much on the golf course,” he said.
It wasn't the last month-and-a-half that he began turning the corner, he said. Whitsett had a strong showing in the SEC championship tournament, when he scored four-under-par and finished in the top ten. The result, which helped bring Alabama its second consecutive conference championship.
He couldn't have picked a better time. Since he started turning it around, he's played a key role in Alabama's late season dominance. Alabama's win at the SEC championship marked his turn around, and his performance at the team's regional event in Auburn marked the full return of Cory Whitsett.
His struggles were officially pronounced dead when he finished the Auburn regional event in second place, at 4-under-par. He recorded his 21st round under par, his fewest since he recorded 19 his freshman year.
“[My play has] been a lot better here this last month, month-and-a-half,” he said. Continuing his late season comeback tour at the NCAAs, he finished off SMU's Ryan Burgess in his quarterfinals match after 14 holes—the fastest win of all competitors that round.
Whitsett credits the turn around to his teammates, who kept him positive all year, whether they knew it or not. They gave him tips to help fix his swing, and kept encouraging him. In the end, the confidence his teammates had in him helped restore it for himself. “When you have four other guys on your team, they don't need to see you on he golf course with your head down and shoulders slumped. You just have to go out and play for them,” he said. “They've been great, just really helpful and encouraging.”
Now that Whitsett has his confidence back, he can turn his focus on the task at hand. He's starting in tomorrow's championship match against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys upset Patrick Rodgers and Stanford on Tuesday, setting up a title match with two of golf's most successful teams in recent years.
Whitsett's got his confidence back, and he's learned an important lesson along the way.
“Golf is hard. Is it what it is. It happens sometimes, and its not the last time I'll play bad golf,” he said.
If his recent play is any indication, it's not something he'll have to worry about anytime soon.