Today marks the beginning of “Think Like a Champion” Month on Golf Channel, and as luck would have it we had two-time major winner Zach Johnson’s longtime coach, Mike Bender, on Morning Drive yesterday morning. We caught up with the 2009 PGA National Teacher of the Year out at Tranquilo Golf Club at Four Seasons Resort Orlando, and asked him for the three traits he most often sees in champion golfers. (In addition to Johnson, Bender has also worked in the past with two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen.) Here’s what our Golf Channel Academy lead coach had to say.
Mike Bender’s 3 Traits of a Champion Golfer
1) “They don’t beat themselves up. They’re accepting of bad shots because they know that’s part of the game, especially in major championship golf.”
2) “They’re not going to beat themselves. You have to outplay them to beat them.”
3) “They’re fierce competitors. They don’t like to lose. You’ll see that in the ‘Bounce Back’ statistics. Those guys are up near the top because they’ll have a bad hole and will come right back with a birdie. Great competitors find a way to get the ball in the hole and they never give up. They’re tenacious. It comes from an inner belief in themselves—they really believe they’re great.”
Of course, there’s always an element of luck involved, even for the greatest champions. The week prior to the 2015 Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews, Bender was with Johnson at the John Deere Classic and asked him what he thought about St Andrews and his chances there. Johnson didn’t sound too optimistic.
“He goes, ‘Well, really, it’s my worst course in the rotation,’ ” recalls Bender. “ ‘It doesn’t really set up well for me.’ And after he won I said, ‘Hey Zach, what do you think of St Andrews now?’ He’s like, ‘Man, I love that place.’
“What happened at St Andrews was that the wind blew from a different direction. It was playing downwind and it made the course shorter,” continued Bender. “There were way more wedge opportunities than there normally is, which plays right into Zach’s wheelhouse. And the second thing about Zach’s game is his three-putt avoidance is fantastic, and those double-greens at St Andrews are huge. So the fact that he had more wedges than normal in and that he’s a great lag putter. …those two were major factors why he won that tournament.”