JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – A comedian and a storytelling sports psychologist have helped D.A. Points learn something about his golf game that years of practice couldn't — how to relax.
As a result, the 34-year-old journeyman is playing better than ever and is a serious contender at the PGA Championship. His 67 in the second round Friday left him at 4-under and three shots off Steve Stricker's first-round lead.
Points said spending time with Bill Murray in February at Pebble Beach taught him to loosen up. Whenever Points caught himself thinking too hard over a shot, he focused on Murray's antics with the crowd, took a deep breath and swung.
"It took my mind off what I wanted to do," he said.
The two teamed up to sweep the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It was Points' first career PGA Tour victory while he and Murray captured the pro-am portion.
So Points brought the philosophy to the PGA. Only this week, sports psychologist Bill Nelson is playing Murray's role. There's no wacky imitations like Murray or "It's in da hole" Caddyshack references, but simple jokes and stories that act as distractions.
In Nelson's terminology, it's called "pattern interrupt."
"When we see a pattern like a bad one where I'm getting angry or I'm frustrated," Points said, someone's supposed to intervene with a story unrelated to golf.
Nelson's on site at Atlanta Athletic Club and has been ready anytime Points has needed a distraction.
"I'll always run over to the sidelines when he's walking down the fairway and he'll tell me some silly story about his roommate," Points said. "It gets my mind off what I'm thinking about."
Right now, Points is thinking about his chance to win a major.
He put up an under-the-radar 69 on Thursday while the focus was on Tiger Woods' 77, Rory McIlroy's injured wrist and Steve Stricker's record tying 63. Points kept up his stellar play with a tidy, five birdie, two bogey second round to creep into the championship picture.
He had birdies on three of his first six holes, then added another on the par-5 12th to move within two strokes of Stricker's lead. Points botched his drive on the 13th, ending up in a bunker for his first bogey of the day. Points showed his mettle right after with a bounce-back birdie on the 14th, sinking an 18-footer to regain the lost stroke.
Points used his "low stress" mantra on the 18th — "Obviously one of the hardest holes we'll ever play," he said — after driving into a fairway bunker. He laid up short of the water in front, and two-putted from about 30 feet for bogey, saying he "just made sure I didn't do anything too silly."
That's left for Nelson.
Points, a straight arrow from Pekin, Ill., was a three-time Illinois Amateur champion who once lost to Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. He'd won four times on the Nationwide Tour and is in his second stint in golf's big leagues.
Points didn't expect much out of Pebble Beach, unsure if Murray was the right partner. Points told wife Lori when the week began that Murray could be "borderline disruptive" to his tournament chances and that they should just expect a short week and move on to the next event. "Lets just have fun," Points recalled. "If I shoot 70 or 80, who cares?"
Instead, Points had a career week — and maybe found a way to win even more.
"Getting my mind off of golf, thinking about a logo or whatever it is, will help," Points said.