The youth transformation of the PGA Tour has reached critical mass. Each week, leaderboards are ablaze with the names of burgeoning young stars, and 24-year-old rookie Tom Lovelady is making his way to the front lines of this movement.
Lovelady secured his Tour card in September with a dramatic birdie on the final hole at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in the Web.com Tour Finals, and admits that was the most nervous he’s ever been on a golf course. If you watch the Alabama alum play, however, you’d never think he’s anything but supremely confident. “Most of my goals are statistical, but ideally I’d like to be in the running for Rookie of the Year and qualify for the TOUR Championship in Atlanta,” Lovelady said when asked about his upcoming freshman campaign.
Big hitters who can putt have always unlocked the clearest path to victory on Tour, and that bodes well for Lovelady as he continues to carve out his own niche on the world golfing stage. Lovelady ranked 3rd in Driving Distance, averaging more than 320 yards off the tee, and 1st in Putting Average on the Web.com Tour last season. He’s likely most proud of his short game, knowing that soft hands can be the key to keeping a good round going. Taking the next step against the world’s greatest players won’t be easy, but you can bank on Lovelady to continue playing the game the only way he knows how: frequently aggressive, always passionate, and more often than not – brilliantly.
Lovelady was introduced to the game at 3 years-old by his father Tim, and started playing in tournaments by age 10. In high school, Lovelady led Mountain Brook to the AHSAA Class 6A Boys’ Golf Championship. The Alabama native went on play collegiate golf at the University of Alabama, competing on teams that won the 2013 and 2014 NCAA Championships. He served as team captain in 2015 and 2016. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had on a golf course,” Lovelady said referring to his Crimson Tide’s championship run. If Lovelady had a walk-up song to the first tee on Tour? It would be “Sweet Home Alabama.”
In 2015, Lovelady lost both his father and grandmother and spent a good deal of time thinking about who he was and who he wanted to be. With the overwhelming support of family, friends, and teammates, including former teammate and roommate Justin Thomas, Lovelady found a way to move through the pain, and he’s responded with an even stronger game, psyche, and overall perspective on life. Lovelady carries holy cards in his golf bag for his father and grandmother to constantly keep them in his thoughts, and also to remind him of everything he’s overcome. Emotion is a powerful force in a game as frustrating as golf, and this is a young man who’s clearly learned to accept life’s finite disappointments, while never losing sight of its infinite hope.
Lovelady does most of his practice on the golf course and doesn’t do many drills. He’s not immersed in technique, but instead considers himself a visualization and feel player. “I try to keep everything very simple,” Lovelady said when describing his approach to the game. One drill Lovelady does practice regularly, however, involves placing an alignment stick on the ground between his feet, extending out past and behind the ball at address. “I practice hitting shots where I’m continually turning through the swing so my chest covers the ball and my club doesn’t contact the alignment stick, “Lovelady said. “This makes me hit the ball first and then the ground, ensuring crisp, clean contact every time.” That’s a lethal combination when combined with Lovelady’s immense power.
Off the course, Lovelady’s your everyday twenty-something. He’s an Atlanta Braves fan, prefers Nintendo over PlayStation, and his favorite golfers are Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus. When asked about his talents outside of golf, Lovelady said, “My best skill is my ability to bake brownies and cookies.” He wouldn’t share his recipes, but if his artistry in the kitchen is half as tasty as his artistry on the course, plenty of fans would pay to see a bake-off battle between Lovelady and Thomas.
Lovelady plays the game with a certain imagination that can’t be taught and can hit an entertaining variety of shots, and that’s what makes his game so much fun to watch. Still, adjusting to life on Tour will present a steep learning curve, as it will for all 23 players in the 2017-18 rookie class. Travel schedules and the level of top-tier competition can legitimately be quite brutal on a greenhorn. One thing is certain, however. Lovelady’s already proven to himself and to others that he belongs on the PGA Tour, and it’s a good bet this season he also proves that he belongs in the winner’s circle.