WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – Jonas Blixt’s journey to The Greenbrier Classic winner’s circle wasn’t without plenty of ups and downs. After claiming his first career win late last year, this season had been an amalgam of missed cuts and poor finishes. And even at this tournament, while climbing into contention on the weekend, it was never easy. He continually struggled to control a swing that had gotten more than a little leaky.
“I didn’t know where my golf ball was going,” he confided afterward. “I was terrible.”
You could even say Blixt’s journey to this point was a roller-coaster ride. Just don’t say it to him directly.
That’s because Blixt suffers from a familiar affliction called “coasterphobia” – it’s a real thing; look it up – which is more commonly known as a fear of roller coasters.
It’s a fear that he’s faced, even though he never wanted to.
A few years ago, Blixt and a college friend named Torstein Neavestad decided they were each “getting a little chubby.” Since both are big fans of Coca-Cola and frantically afraid of roller coasters, they decided to make a little wager.
“We made a bet that the first one to drink soda has to go on a two-hour roller-coaster ride,” he said.
After six months, Blixt broke down.
He was playing poorly on the Web.com Tour and the lack of caffeine wasn’t helping, so he gave in and started drinking Coke again. In his next start, he finished in a share of second place. But he knew he’d have to pay the price.
And so a few months ago, Blixt finally settled the bet on the Kraken roller coaster at SeaWorld in Orlando.
“They told me afterward that it could be dangerous for you,” he recalled. “You’re not supposed to have more than five rides a day. But my friend was like, ‘You’ve got to do it continuously.’ So I did it for 45 minutes, then my buddy puked all over the place, so they had to shut it down. It was disgusting. He puked a little bit on me, too. Then I had to go for another hour and 15 minutes after that.”
The mental imagery of others throwing up on themselves was appropriate during Sunday’s final round, as well. The closing twosome of Johnson Wagner and Jimmy Walker posted scores of 73 and 71, respectively – the worst totals of any players in the eventual top-20.
That opened the door for Blixt, but not without some stomach-churning moments of his own.
The 29-year-old Swede failed to find one-third of the fairways this week and one-third of the greens in regulation. He never felt comfortable with his swing and never quite knew where the ball was going. It served as a microcosm for a season that had yielded just a pair of top-25 finishes in 16 previous starts.
“It's just been a hard year,” he admitted. “I just haven't played that well and it just feels really weird, missing the cut last week and I felt like the ball was going everywhere, trying to find some stuff going into this week and kept working on it, never really felt that I got that slot in my swing where I can just rip at it.”
Blixt worked on curing that this week, but let’s face it: He won this title thanks to sublime wedge play and an unrelenting putter. Both traits have been trademarks of his since his All-America playing days at Florida State University and through his journey to becoming a PGA Tour rookie last season.
In the final round, he saved par on five of the seven occasions that he missed a green in regulation.
“The putter worked really well today and the whole week,” he said, “so I mean it's just really cool to finish on top.”
After it was all over, after all of the wayward drives and missed greens and clever pitch shots and clutch putts, Blixt was asked which ordeal was more harrowing.
Trying to close out a tournament down the stretch or two hours on a roller coaster?
“Going down the stretch, especially when you don’t know where the ball is going,” he answered. “My first win was great because I knew where the ball was going. This one, I was a little bit unsure.”
Despite the up and down, topsy-turvy final round, one that was emblematic of his entire season, Blixt still doesn’t like roller coasters. And he certainly doesn’t like them for two hours at a time.
“I don't recommend doing it,” he said. “I was quite dizzy there for an hour and a half, two hours afterwards. But you've got to pay your bets.”
Now he’s done it. Faced his fears, both on the rails and on the course. When this roller-coaster ride ended, he was showered with an obscenely large trophy, a seven-figure paycheck and a berth in next year’s Masters field.
And just in case you were wondering, he’s staying caffeinated these days, too. When asked how many Cokes he’s enjoyed this week, Blixt smiled.
“I couldn’t tell you. Too many. A lot.”