The Secret Is In The Dirt
Two-Part Series of the story about golf's greatest grinder. (1 of 2)
To tell Roberto “Bobby” Diaz’s story, I had to set up the past two years first!
Writers note: This post is very “golfy.” The message from Diaz’s journey comes in Part 2.
Last weekend, the golf world watched as Will Zalatoris and Sepp Straka went head-to-head in a thrilling, and at times, cringeworthy 3-hole playoff. We all talked about it the next day in our golf circles. Zalatoris found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, literally, but used his young wisdom and guts to secure his first win as a professional. Social media was filled with congratulations to Will for his breakthrough win. Golf media wrote about the victory after “falling short” numerous times of hoisting a trophy during his whopping two-years on tour. (Yes, sarcasm of such a lazy conclusion by critics.)
What we didn’t read about, nor would there have been a reason to, was that same Sunday, a little west of where Zalatoris took down his first victory, Roberto “Bobby” Diaz had just wrapped up a much different day with a much different outcome. Bobby was competing on the Korn Ferry Tour, and he entered the final round needing to go low… like 65 low, to “maybe” make the Korn Ferry Playoffs for a chance to earn PGA status for 2023. This would be the first time since the 2018-2019 season for Bobby. It also would have been VERY unexpected.
Bobby Diaz stood on the 10th tee with a sense of relief and renewed belief. He was 2-under going into the 9th and had just drained a crucial long putt for par, keeping him within reach of going low.
I met Bobby back in 2018 in a Pro-Am at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, NC. I immediately liked the guy. In the role as a professional golfer, he was personable and curious of other’s stories during the round. More so, he was authentic. It only took a few holes for me to realize that what he was able to do with a golf ball, meant nothing to how he would interact with another human. He was along for the ride and enjoyed every moment with us “hacks.”
Through the years, I have watched Roberto Diaz from afar, occasionally exchanging text messages after good results. Last year, “Bobby” won his first Korn Ferry tournament in 113 starts at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. The next day, I read an interview he conducted after the win. The week prior, Diaz had caddied for his great friend and PGA/ LIV player, Abraham Ancer at the WGC Workday Championship. In the interview, Diaz told the reporter about how impressed he was that Abraham played the same in that tournament as he did in a friendly match between friends in the offseason. He played with such joy. He asked Abraham why that was the case. Abraham told his friend, “Regardless of where you are playing, give each shot 100% and then add them up at the end of the round.” It’s that simple.
The win catapulted Bobby up the Korn Ferry rankings and had him inside the top 10, a critical placement at the end of the season because the Top 25 get their PGA TOUR status.
Unfortunately, Bobby’s golf game plateaued down the stretch. During the final tournament of the season, he missed the cut and watched from home as his season ranking slid from 18th to 27th in the points over the weekend, two spots from being guaranteed PGA status. The dip in the rankings had him have to earn his way into the PGA through the Korn Ferry Playoffs.
Golf doesn’t really pay attention to where a player is during the season schedule. Just like life, golf can (and will) ebb and flow. To that, we have no control. The playoffs were “ebb” for Bobby and his game just could not get back into form during any of the three playoff tournaments. He would be destined for another season without PGA TOUR status.
The 2021-2022 season, from my perspective, seemed to be the beginning of the end for Diaz. I interpreted the missed cuts and high placed finishes to mean that he never recovered from being so close to the PGA just a season prior. I would frequently check-in on his tournament performances. As the season progressed, he slid from being in the middle of the pack to as low as 115th place on the Korn Ferry Tour. I assumed from my distant perspective, that it must be that he was burned out.
Then, two weeks ago, I checked the leaderboard after the second round of the Zion Bank Utah Championship, and there was my friend sitting in the top 5. I had to text! I had to let him know that “believing doesn’t have to be perfect, it just matters that its there.” He texted back that, he too, believed he could make the unthinkable happen. As the week progressed, the birdies piled up for him! Sunday, players went obnoxiously low, but Bobby still was able to shoot 3-under on the day and finish 14th.
Suddenly, the playoffs were now well within reach as he moved to 90th in the points standings. He just needed to break the top 75. There was only one problem… he would have to take on the course that kept him from finishing in the Top 25 just a year prior: The Club at Indian Creek in Omaha, Nebraska. And this is what gets us to that 10th tee last Sunday.
After the crucial par save on the 9th, Bobby stood on the 10th tee knowing that he dodged a bullet and a low round was still very much in the cards. He was not wrong. He started the back nine with two straight birdies on two of the toughest holes on the course. He was now 4-under on the round going into the 13th. He held on tight to get through the 13th hole and on the 14th, he missed a good putt for birdie.
The 15th was now a must-make-birdie par 5. He executed the hole perfectly sinking the birdie putt and was sitting 5-under on the day, 9-under for the tournament. Cinderella was ready to hand over her slipper.
On the 16th, he hit a solid 3-wood off the tee and his confident strides down the fairway were intended to bring him to the next opportunity to improve his score. Instead, as he approached his ball, he realized that it had trickled through the fairway and just made it narrowly into the rough. With the cruel wrath of the golf gods, he was left with an awful lie. With the pin in a tucked and difficult position, he knew that he would have to play smart just to protect bogey. He was able to do so, but that meant he now needed to birdie the last two holes.
On the 17th, he grinded away, and again, gave himself a chance for birdie with a 40-foot putt. It was heading dead center, but stopped just two-inches short. Bobby walked to the 18th hole knowing, that for the second year in a row, he was going to fall painstakingly close and just short of a milestone.
Even with the disappointment weighing so heavily on his mind, he crushed his best drive of the week, hit a perfect approach shot, and knocked in a putt for birdie, securing a final round score of 66. The top 75 in points for the Korn Ferry Tour season advanced to this week’s first playoff tournament. Bobby finished 77th.
I reached out to Diaz this week and asked if he would like to chat. We haven’t talked since 2020. He immediately took me up on the offer. I knew that there was a good story sitting here and would certainly verify my assumption that it took a year to overcome last year’s heartbreaking finish to the season, that he had lost his game and now has found it again only to come up just short one more time.
Instead, I was reminded that we often draw inaccurate conclusions on incomplete facts or personal assumptions. The fact was that Bobby had not dwelled on the previous season’s tragic ending at all. He had actually done quite the opposite. He explained to me that he knows his best golf is yet to come, even at 35 years-old. But, he knew he needed to completely retool his swing, and that it would likely result in sacrificing a good 2021-2022 season to accomplish it. What we witnessed the last few weeks wasn’t him coming out of a rip-van-winkle self-pity-slumber… it was that “the secret was in the dirt.”
This is a quote by Ben Hogan when asked what was his secret to his golf game. Bobby Diaz turned this whole story of 2021 and 2022 on its head when he quoted it to me to explain exactly what the last nine months had been for him and why his final two tournaments were actually massive wins and not the let downs that I had naively presumed.
Hogan’s quote had two meanings, the literal and the metaphorical. The literal meaning was describing how Hogan abandoned a golf swing early in his career that was a draw ball flight with a bad hook miss. He reengineered his swing to create a power-fade that would then catapult him to be one of the best to ever play the game. In the process, Hogan analyzed his divots and how the dirt was displaced on the range to see how he was striking the ball.
But his true lesson and meaning to the statement was a reinforcement that the work is done on the range, grinding out each day with faith and unconditional devotion to become better. The secret is in the dirt.
Bobby and I spoke for an hour. We talked about how he got into the game as a young kid in Mexico. It had such tones of familiarity because it sounded similar to how another Bobby was introduced to the game. Bobby Diaz was taught by his uncle, who cut and fit a set of clubs specifically for young Diaz. Bobby looked at his uncle’s swing with admiration and mimicked the movements to create his natural swing.
With golf not nearly as popular and accessible in Mexico as it is here in the U.S., the experience sounded strikingly familiar to how Bobby Jones was introduced to the game in a time where golf was not popular or accessible in the U.S. either. East Lake’s head golf pro in 1908, Stewart Maiden, created Jones’s first set of clubs. And it was Stewart’s technically perfect swing that Bobby Jones fashioned his swing after. I love the fact that the the two Bobby’s entered the game decades apart, but both started with minimal equipment, technology, and understanding of the game.
Again, the secret is in the dirt.
Roberto “Bobby” Diaz has had a two-year run that would make most walk from the the competitive part of the game. But, his sincere and determined belief that his best golf is yet to come, accompanied with a mentality molded by confidence, wisdom, and simplicity, creates a character that we have to root for. It would be short-sighted not to.
Part 2 of this story, I will share how much we can learn, not from Tiger, Jordan, or Rory, but a grinder whose passion and purpose is golf and that he BELIEVES his best golf is yet to come. It will inspire all of us that are out there chasing a dream, following a passion, exploring a true purpose, or competing at high level in the game itself. Bobby Diaz sees the world through a practical and confident lens. I knew I was going to learn something from this call, but it ended up not at all what I expected going into the conversation. It is another wonderful illustration of how golf portrays life.
The good stuff comes Thursday! Stay tuned.