Do you want to be like Phil or Bryson?
That was effectively the ultimatum coach Khan Pullen put to Cameron Davis in a heart-to-heart on the practice range following the third round of the Australian Open in December.
The pair – along with noted sports psychologist Neale Smith and Davis’s caddie, Andrew Tschudin – had been going back and forth on the type of player Davis wanted to be as he sought to make an impression in his maiden year on the US PGA Tour.
Davis preferred a creative flair that allowed him to try risky shots with varying levels of success; his coach was seeking a more reliable left-to-right stock ball flight that would put an end to double bogeys blotting his scorecard.
The result is a player who is committed to a style that can best be described as strategically creative.
The 25-year-old resumes his second PGA Tour season at the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii this week with a clearer picture of the type of golfer he wants to be and with the confidence that comes from a third-place finish at the Australian PGA Championship in December.
“I just needed to realise how I want my swing, how I want to play golf,” said Davis, who missed the cut with rounds of 73-71 in the Sony Open 12 months ago.
“Do I want to be a fader, a drawer, someone who works it both ways? Do I want to be a stock player or someone who uses their imagination?
“I just didn’t really have much of a direction that way but I’ve picked what I want to do so now I’ve just got to practise and keep improving that specific goal of mine of how I want to play the game.
“I’ve been working on that for a little while and we’ve finally come to a decision around this is the way we want to do it and we’re going to do a good job of that.”
It’s been a six-month process for Davis to settle on how he approaches the game and how he expresses himself on the golf course.
Throughout there were periods of frustration and culminated in an honest discussion with his coach at The Australian Golf Club.
Pullen was trying to build a greater sense of reliability both in how Davis played and his emotional stability on the golf course and is now happy with the path they have agreed upon.
“We’d had this discussion for a while; who are you as a golfer? And I know he’d been struggling with it,” Pullen revealed.
“He’d struggled with a few things at Australian Open week. We worked on a lot of the things we’d been working on all the time and after the third round we had a frank conversation.
“I was probably trying to push Cameron into that space where he was thinking, This is not really me.
“We’d probably hit 10 balls on the range going through what we normally do and I could read his body language well enough to know he was feeling uncomfortable about the changes.
“I said to him, ‘This is the decision you need to come to as a golfer. Are you going to decide to go down this path of playing predominantly left-to-right ball flight, make these changes or are you not?’
“I used an analogy of the extremes; are you going to be a scientific-type player like Bryson DeChambeau or more of a feel player like Phil Mickelson?
“Those were the extremes. He was more like a Phil and I was trying to slide him up that spectrum to be a little more scientific in his approach and not run entirely on emotion and instinct.
“He came to the decision that he thought he was a better player with more of that feel, flair and instinct.
“This had been on his mind for a while and once he made that decision it was a massive weight off his shoulders.”
With a Korn Ferry Tour category position that provides for a somewhat uncertain schedule, Davis was preparing to Monday qualify for Sony before getting the good news that he was in the field late last week.
Chasing a better position on the moneylist, Davis played 27 PGA Tour events in a calendar-year total of 31 last year and battled burnout on top of a crisis of confidence.
“There are enough tournaments that I don’t need to be pushing to play every single week,” Davis said of supplementing his 2020 schedule with some starts on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour.
“Finishing up the last six months it felt like I almost played every single week. It will be quite nice to have a bit of a break in between events.
“That will give me some time to get everything right and go again.
“I felt like I was getting dragged in different directions but I just needed to find what works for me and stick to it.
“I’ve been working hard with my coach and my caddie and sports psych, the whole team, to piece the pieces together.
“I feel like we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what we’re after.”
Continuing work with Neale Smith and enhanced on-course communication with caddie Andrew Tschudin are all designed to channel a creative Davis into a consistent performer and one who in time can contend for major championships.
“There is still a system in what we are doing but with a creative flair and the ability to play all the shots, not to be pigeon-holed into playing one type of shot most of the time,” Pullen explained.
“He’s made this decision, he’s comfortable with that decision, he’s comfortable with some of the processes we’ve put in place around the decision he’s made and I feel like he’s more comfortable on the golf course.
“Hopefully in 2020 we see a Cameron Davis that is more comfortable in the environment on the PGA Tour and a Cameron Davis that is enjoying golf and playing the way he feels best suits him.
“I spoke to him on Monday and he is excited to be at the golf course and to play. He can’t wait.”