PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Once, David Lingmerth couldn’t bring himself to attend the hometown golf showcase that he nearly won a decade ago.
“I think I came out for one of the concerts they had on like the Tuesday afternoons once, and yeah, that was about it,” he said.
If the 35-year-old Ponte Vedra Beach resident launches a mid-career renaissance, Saturday at the Players Championship of 2023 may go down as the turning point.
Lingmerth entered the Saturday clubhouse in a tie for seventh at 8-under 208 for the tournament — but after a golf odyssey that he calls a roller-coaster, the score is just part of the story.
Four birdies in five holes between No. 2 and No. 6 at the Players Stadium Course. A moving-day afternoon spent on the Players leaderboard. A return to the confidence that once carried him into a Sunday showdown with Tiger Woods.
The tournament month has changed since his last Players. So has the grass type. But for the first time in five years, David Lingmerth is back.
“It still feels like home. I feel comfortable,” he said. “Obviously I missed shots in places I shouldn’t miss them, but I know where I’m supposed to be and I know where I want to avoid.”
And for the former hockey player, originally from Sweden but a First Coast resident for more than a decade, currently living about 10 minutes from the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, it’s been a long time coming.
He’s been here before. While the duel between eventual champion Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia took center stage at the 2013 Players, Lingmerth was more than just a supporting character in the drama. Tied with Woods entering the final round, he finished at 11-under 277 for the tournament, tied for second and two strokes behind. The memories still burn brightly.
“Just the atmosphere, battling with Tiger, being in the final group with Sergio,” he said. “I was there until the very end. I had a shot.”
The former NCAA All-American at Arkansas kept rising, winning The Memorial in 2015 for his first PGA Tour win. Then came calamity.
Soon, the momentum was worse than gone, wiped out by a barrage of injuries and collapsing confidence. Before this week, Lingmerth hadn’t made it to Sunday at the Players since 2013. He hadn’t even qualified for the tournament since 2018, and during that spell, he nearly plummeted off the golf radar.
He lost his PGA Tour card, plunged as low as 915th in the World Golf Ranking and, in one spell in 2021, missed 11 of 20 cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“I felt like I was close to the peak of the mountain for a while as it relates to my abilities, and I went all the way back down to the bottom, it felt like,” he said. “I didn’t know how to play golf at all was kind of my feeling.”
Part of Lingmerth’s blueprint for a turnaround came from another European golfer with First Coast ties, former Jacksonville University star Russell Knox. Last summer, Knox introduced Lingmerth to split-grip putting, an unconventional approach in which the back of the player’s right hand is low and faces rightward.
After sessions with Knox, and studying the approach of Spencer Levin, Lingmerth adopted a modified putting approach that’s working at The Players and beyond. He entered the weekend at 23rd on the Tour in putting average.
“I was like, I at least got to give that a try is what I thought and, yeah, I did. Then I messed around a little bit with the grip and eventually found something that I felt could work for me,” he said.
It’s paying off. After three missed cuts to open the PGA Tour season, Lingmerth has started to recapture his form, including four top-15 finishes.
In the fall, he tied for 10th just across the state line at the RSM Classic in Sea Island, Georgia.
“It’s been some really great moments, and then there’s been some really, really tough moments in the last few years,” he said. “Thankful in the last year or so been able to make some progress and golf is a lot more fun again.”