Roger Sloan gets a home game in Houston after seizing the opportunityCanadian closed 2021’s regular season with consecutive top-10s to keep his TOUR card
November 10, 2021
By Sean Martin, gushalin.com
Roger Sloan on playing close to home before Hewlett Packard Enterprise
HOUSTON – From the middle of the fairway, Roger Sloan’s mind often wandered far from his target.
Instead of concentrating on his desired destination, he was worried about all the possible permutations for his next shot. He was calculating what a birdie would be worth, how many FedExCup points he would gain and what tournaments he’d earn entry into.
“Sometimes I get caught up in the magnitude of the situation,” Sloan said Tuesday in his pre-tournament press conference for the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open. “It just builds the shot up too much to where it's not a 6-iron anymore, now it's the most crucial shot I've ever hit in my career.”
Keeping his focus closer to the hole also meant his ball ended up there more often. It was especially helpful just a few weeks ago, in the final weeks of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season.
He closed the regular season with consecutive top-6 finishes to crack the top 125 in the FedExCup, not only earning a spot in the Playoffs but keeping his playing privileges for this season.
The statistics would say that a large improvement in his ball-striking was the reason Sloan jumped from 169th in the 2020 FedExCup to 96th last season. He improved approximately 100 spots in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (156th to 62nd) and Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green (166th to 67th) last season. Sloan said his improved mental approach was the real key.
“I've always actually been a fairly good ball-striker, but I kind of get in my own way a little bit,” he said. “Getting out of my own way is really … what we've been able to accomplish, having a little bit of freedom and ultimately giving myself access to my skills more frequently than I have in the past.”
He summoned his best when it mattered most last season.
With just two weeks remaining before the FedExCup Playoffs, Sloan stood 137th in the season-long standings. The mountainous terrain at the Barracuda Championship reminded the boy from British Columbia of home, however, and it helped him to a sixth-place finish, just his fourth top-10 in 95 career starts.
He was still outside the top 125 when he arrived at the Wyndham Championship, the final event of the regular season. By Sunday, Sloan wasn’t just trying to keep his card. He was trying to earn his first PGA TOUR win.
“I know with five holes to go, if I make two bogeys I'm going to Boise (for the first event of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals) and if I make two birdies I have a chance to win the golf tournament,” Sloan said Tuesday. “The weight of all of that was so great that all of a sudden it just forced me to just think I can only control the next shot, and I was able to hit some really good quality shots coming in.”
He birdied 16 and 17 to earn a spot in a six-man playoff for the title, which was won by Kevin Kisner. The second runner-up finish of Sloan’s career earned him his second FedExCup Playoffs berth.
One of the rewards for that strong finish to last season is an opportunity to compete at Memorial Park for the first time. He played the new design, which underwent a dramatic renovation by famed architect Tom Doak, once in preparation for last year’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open but wasn’t able to get in the field.
This week, he’ll have some of his Canadian peers over for dinner. He’ll balance his duties at home with his professional obligations. Sloan has taken to Texas and he has endeared himself to his neighbors. Last winter, he built a backyard ice rink.
“I guess everyone needs a Canadian in their neighborhood when the freeze comes,” he joked. “That's still talked about.”
Sloan hadn’t been to the Lone Star State before attending college at the University of Texas-El Paso. The story of how he arrived there still makes Sloan shake his head. As a high schooler in Canada, he naively wrote letters to the biggest programs in the United States. His inquiries were met with rejection.
Some older kids from his area had gone to play at UTEP, but Sloan was too afraid to write the coach. “I never wanted to write a letter because I didn't want to get a rejection letter. I just didn't want to have that final no,” he said.
Then UTEP’s head coach, Rick Todd, unexpectedly appeared to watch Sloan’s group at a junior tournament. Except Todd was there to watch another player. Sloan quickly caught Todd’s attention, though.
“It was very apparent after a few holes that he was not interested in that kid,” Sloan said. “He saw a couple shots of mine and he reached out afterwards and that's kind of how it came to be.”
He seized the opportunity, just as he did at the end of last season.