When Jonathan Byrd, defending champion at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, was asked during an early December teleconference about his preparation for the 2012 PGA Tour, one of the names he mentioned as part of his team was another former Clemson alumnus, Morris Pickens.
Known to friends and clients as "Dr. Mo," Pickens in 10 years has built a reputation among professional golfers as a go-to guy for working on the most important part of their game: the space between their ears. Among 11 players with whom he works regularly on the game's mental aspects, three have won major championships, including another former Tiger, 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover.
Pickens began as a "head coach" while finishing his doctorate in psychology at Virginia, where he worked with his first player, Bob Walcott. Pickens dates the real start of his career to 2001, when he joined forces with - you guessed it - another former Clemson golfer, Columbia native Charles Warren. That, in turn, led to his association with Glover and Byrd, and later 2011 PGA Tour rookie Kyle Stanley.
The idea of sports psychology as a career began, he says, "really kind of around my junior or senior year in high school," when he concluded his chances of playing professional golf were not great. "I got recruited by some small colleges, but I was a realist," he says. "My brother, who was at least as good as me, played at Duke, but only 2-3 times in four years."
Pickens chose Clemson, where golf coach Larry Penley "gave me a shot," he says. "But I could shoot 72-75, and he didn't need anyone to do that." Instead, Pickens set his sights on graduate school. His career decision was not met with enthusiasm at home at first.
"My dad (Wes) didn't want me to go into sports psychology; now that I'm a parent, I understand," he says. "He didn't know anything about it, and his reaction was "you want to do what?"
Pickens studied at Virginia under noted golf/sports psychologist Bob Rotella, and like his mentor, he has written books on the mental approach to golf. But his main focus is working with players. In 2012, in addition to his big guns, he'll have three Q-school graduates, including William McGirt (Wofford) and former Georgia star Brian Harman.
Pickens also has worked with the Clemson golf team since 2002. In 2003, the Tigers won the NCAA Championship. Pickens tells you that, pauses and then chuckles.
"Was that strictly coincidence? Probably," he says. "They were going to win it all sooner or later. It was just a matter of time."
Maybe - and maybe that was the case with his three major champions, too. But having Dr. Mo on their teams didn't hurt.
Bio: Graduated from Clemson in 1997 and received doctorate in psychology from Virginia in 2001. Began working as mental/performance coach with Clemson men's golf team in 2002; has worked with PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour players since finishing at Virginia. Is based out of Sea Island, Ga., where a number of his clients live.
Highlights: Works with 11 players on PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour, headed by three major-championship winners: Zach Johnson (2007 Masters), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open) and Stewart Cink (2009 British Open). Other top players include five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd and Nick Watney.
Where I play: "I like to go back to Orangeburg Country Club, where I grew up, especially since they redid it (in 2009). I think it's got great par-3s from the back tees. I love the Country Club of Charleston, even though it's too hard for me, I love Secession near Beaufort, and I love The Dunes Golf & Beach Club at Myrtle Beach; it's private, but you can get on there, and you can do that at Orangeburg now, too.
"The Ocean Course at Kiawah is so freaking hard, but it's good. If the wind's blowing, you can be literally aiming 40 yards from where your ball might end up. And Furman University Golf Course has some difficult greens; it's not visually intimidating, but it's tough. Oh, and I like Lake Marion Golf Club - it's one of two courses (in Santee) - mostly because we played there for the high school championships, and I played good."
Where I eat: "When I'm home in Orangeburg, I'm going to Antley's, a barbecue place with good fried chicken, too. I have places like that I'm going to when I'm in South Carolina. In Clemson, I'm going to Mac's (Drive-In); if I'm in Columbia, I'm probably going to Groucho's (Deli). And I'm definitely going to Mr. B's in Lydia, which is a home-cooking place near Hartsville. On a Sunday afternoon, it's my favorite place. It's really, really good."
What I do for fun: "I like to go to Clemson football games, take the boys (ages 13 and nine; Pickens' daughters are 16 and two) and do some tailgating. I don't get to do it much, but I love going dove hunting between Orangeburg, St. Matthews and Columbia. I come home to play golf in the Festival of Roses tournament; I like the festival and I get to play with friends. And when I'm home, I always go fishing at a friend's, Joe McCombs."