It’s easy to pick the guy everybody wants, but the trick is to find players that are just as good and possibly better, that not everyone wants.
Mizuno’s PGA Tour Manager Jeff Cook talks through his criteria for identifying up-and-coming talent for #teammizuno. Cook knows more than most about the professional game, having played on the PGA and Nationwide Tours and working with Mizuno’s players for over 25 years.
“I used to play a little bit, but many years have passed since then. It’s hard to pick a career highlight. Any time you win, that’s obviously nice, but I remember playing with Tom Kite on one occasion when he won going down the stretch. Even though I wasn’t winning, at least I got to see what it was like! But you know I wouldn’t say I’ve had any one single career highlight. Just like Luke [Donald] would say, the whole lifespan of playing professional golf has been a highlight – from travelling overseas, playing in the Asian Tour to playing here in America – it’s all been fun.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say the guys today are better athletes; they’re better fit. But you are seeing bigger guys, stronger guys, playing golf now. If you look back, some of the best players in history were six feet and under, and it was more of a one-dimensional sport. Now you’re seeing guys that, in high school, were star athletes in a variety of sports.
“The training today is better by far. Training back when I played meant you might have done some running; certainly no body work. The trainers then didn’t have a good grasp on what should be done. I mean a 12-ounce beer was about the best training method back in the day! It’s a whole different dynamic now, from working out to the equipment, to eating – every aspect is different.
“There’s no perfect science to evaluating talent. There are plenty of guys leaving college and you think ‘that’s the guy.’ They are either first team all-American or on the Walker Cup side. But only a very small percentage go to the next level.
“We’ve had some of those players in the past – some pan out, and others fall away. I just do my best to look at a player and see how their game is. When you’re looking at someone now, you’re looking at all aspects: physically how they play, what scores they shoot, what their attitude is, how they think and how they view life.
“It’s not that different to the NBA or the NFL. When NFL players go to the combine they go through massive batteries of tests on their attitude and how they think. It’s no different with golf – you’re looking at the guy trying to get a feel for how he is and what he wants in the future. How hard is he going to work? What can that person bring to the table for Mizuno? Can we use him at the PGA Show? Can we have him come and talk? Can we use him for a national sales meeting? How else can we use a player other than just playing golf.
“We saw it with Keith [Mitchell]. Keith was in college, went to Georgia right by our office, so we’d looked at him and once he became available and was trying to progress through the levels – when he got to the Web.com Tour – we knew he had huge potential and hadn’t tapped it yet.
“There’s no perfect formula to figuring out if it’s going to happen, but you could see that if he kept progressing, it could be huge for not only Keith but whichever manufacturer he worked with. Luckily for us that was Mizuno. Keith has the potential to go even further. As time goes on I see him becoming a multiple [PGA Tour] winner; hopefully a major winner.
“But that’s how you look at these guys. It’s the same with Steven Fisk – straight out of college one of the best amateurs in the country, on the Walker Cup Team, first team all-American… he has a lot of potential and it’ll be a progression from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour.
“It’s easy to pick the guy everybody wants, but the trick is to find players that are just as good and possibly better, that not everyone wants. Steven could be one of those. He went to a smaller school – Georgia Southern – that in the big scheme of college golf isn’t up there in the hierarchy. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play the PGA Tour and be a multiple winner.
“He’s very confident, he doesn’t really have a lot of swing thoughts – he’s more playing. We discussed how he doesn’t really have a coach. He knows he hits it straight; he knows he hits it solid. He’s about the score and getting the ball in the hole and that’s a huge positive. I mean he’s very fit and he has good speed – he has everything it takes to play the Tour.”