PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- If only our visits to the doctor were this much fun, not to mention profitable. For us, I mean.
Three weeks back, Camilo Villegas had a session with his sports psychologist and not only came away with a sackful of valuable silver coins, but an attitude adjustment that has put him back near the top of the heap on the PGA Tour.
The weekend before the Accenture Match Play Championship, Villegas and his longtime mental coach met on the putting green at Old Palm Golf Club, which is located just a across the street from this week's tour event, the Honda Classic.
Dr. Gio Valiante laid a series of $200 Canadian Maple Leaf coins on the putting green and told Villegas that he could pocket a coin every time he made a 7-foot putt. Amazingly, there was no catch. For Valiante, this wasn't taking one for the team -- it was donating one to the team.
Villegas gleefully won 50 of the silver coins, worth about $10,000. Thankfully for Valiante, his top client not only grabbed the cash, but grasped the point the psychologist was making. Paydays have been steady ever since.
|Since his for-profit putting lesson, Camilo Villegas has been in contention every week. (AP)|
Not coincidentally, the streak dates back to the Feb. 13 session he had with the psychologist, whom he has known since he was 19 during his freshman year at Florida. After Valiante had handed over a small fortune in coins, he asked Villegas how completing the drill had felt.
"It was awesome," Camilo said. "I had nothing to lose."
Valiante suspected he had set the hook, and he followed up by asking Villegas what his rookie season in 2006 was like. Not surprisingly, Villegas said he was mostly just honored to be on tour, had few expectations and didn't feel discouraged when he had a rough patch.
Conversely, after a stellar 2008 season that included two victories -- Villegas nearly won the FedEx Cup title too -- it had all changed. Wound too tight and fixated on results, Villegas had been beating himself up for months, unhappy that he wasn't playing at the same high level as in late '08. Once stationed as high as No. 7 in the world, Villegas was asked by Valiante if he was trying to live up to his ranking. Again, the answer was an affirmative.
"That's the equivalent of playing prevent defense in football," the psychologist, a longtime professor at Rollins College, told him.
Like that series of lucrative putts at old Palm, it didn't take long for the lesson to sink in -- play golf, enjoy yourself and stop fixating so much on the minor details. Villegas has been preaching for three weeks about how much less stress he has placed on himself and has finished third at the Match Play and T8 in Phoenix. So it wasn't hard to trace the roots of the makeover.
"When your attitude's good, you can do a lot of things," said Brett Waldman, Villegas' caddie, as his boss signed autographs nearby.
Pardon the pun, but Valiante coined a term to describe the new bent: "Attitude of gratitude."
In other words, playing golf for a living, for millions of dollars, in front of people who care about you, isn't a life-or-death proposition. Now, every Monday, when the pair speak on the phone to discuss things, Valiante makes the Colombian cite something he's grateful for.
The new philosophical framework has been remarkably fruitful, and fast. Villegas said after his round Friday that if somebody treated him as poorly as he had been treating himself, "we would have had a problem."
As they might say in South Florida, where Villegas lives: No problemo, no mas, senor. He's gone from beating himself up to beating nearly everybody, from collecting booty to kicking it.
There's a new coin of the realm for the Colombian. By the way, he uses one of the pricy Canadian medallions as a ballmark, just as a reminder.
"I would say that was the most significant of his career in terms of his mental development," Valiante said. "I believe it was truly his biggest leap forward."