Sebastian Munoz in right frame of mind ahead of Sanderson Farms Championship title defense

Columbia’s Sebastian Munoz joined the fraternity of PGA Tour winners last year with a thrilling Sunday finish to capture the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson, making birdie on the 72nd hole and then defeating Sungjae Im with a par on the first extra hole.

Now, for the first time in his career, he will defend a title with his return this week to Mississippi.

“I thought about it when I was coming in, and I was like, well, if you think about it, if I don’t win, like everything would be negative if I don’t win,” Munoz said Wednesday after his pro-am round. “And that’s not fair. So it’s like, I’m just glad to be here in a place that I’ve played really good, where I like the people, and just try to do my best. It’s not like I’m going to focus on just defending my title but just having a good tournament at a place that I like.”

It’s a thoughtful approach, and the latest example of Munoz working on the mental side of the game. His victory set forth his best season on the PGA Tour, as he added three more top-10s, cracked the top 100 in the official world rankings for the first time, started the FedEx Cup Playoffs with seven consecutive birdies, and made it to the Tour Championship for the first time, where he tied for eighth in the FedEx Cup.

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But he also missed 10 cuts, half of them coming after the Tour restarted following a 13-week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Along the way, as he continued to work on his game, he attended to the six inches between his ears.

“I’ve been really happy with my mental toughness. I think that’s a big improvement from a couple years ago,” said Munoz, 27, who is ranked No. 76 in the world. “I had a really good fall and then kind of falloff after COVID. I had a little bump coming back from COVID, which was hard to take, but I remained positive and tough and managed to steer around.

“I still think I can control all the environment and all my results, and it’s just not true. I mean, golf is a tough sport, and it’s a really tough sport that you might be feeling great but you still might not be getting the results that you get.

“I think one thing I can get better at is just kind of not let the golf course play around with my mind at home.”

That would be his new home in Dallas he and his new bride, Daniela Granados, purchased three months ago. Back in Big D, he didn’t mind thinking about the Country Club of Jackson, where he feels right at home. He shot 70-67-63-70 last year and remembered quite a few of those shots during practice rounds and the pro-am this year.

“I just couldn’t help it; every hole I just remember last time I was here,” he said. “Like on 11 the draw I hit, and on 15 where I made bogey and then that little corner where me and my caddie talked about turning it around and making a big hole somewhere.

“I just couldn’t help it. Then on 18, like walking up the green, it was like, oh, this is nice. It’s different, there’s not the grandstand, but I can still feel the magic, the aura, the energy of the place just buzzing. So it was pretty special.”

Speaking of special, Munoz will make his Masters debut in November. He would have made his debut in April but COVID delayed matters. The Masters is the only major he hasn’t played in – he’s missed three cuts and tied for 59th in the U.S. Open this year. But he feels better prepared to tackled the grandest stages in golf, both physically and mentally.

“The goals this year are to keep improving my game, become a top-50 golfer in the world and just keep getting experience from the big tournaments,” he said. “I felt like I still feel a little more pressure in those events, so just feel more comfortable and see what happens.

“I feel really happy with my mind. I feel like the swing stuff has been working good since a year ago. there’s always little tweaks here and there, but the thing that’s improved the most is I think my head and not making it a big thing and just going out and playing golf, which is how I play the best.”

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