The way I see it, I have at least three things in common with Jordan Spieth. The first two are that we’re both from Texas and after this Saturday, we’ll have both played in the Masters. Except mine is the Masters @ Magnolia on the Golf Channel Am Tour at High Meadow Ranch Golf Club, just north of Houston. The third commonality is that I’m also very familiar with the chicken-wing chunk that Spieth had on the 12th hole at Augusta National on Sunday. Too familiar.
In fact, I had one of those on the second hole on the Palmer Lakeside Course at Barton Creek near Austin, Texas during my first Golf Channel Am Tour event, the Prelude to the Texas Open. It was my third shot on the par 5, and it was over water. I hit the turf about a half inch behind the ball, carving out a nice, neat layer of sod that like the golf ball, also landed in the agua. In my defense, I did have a downhill lie, but like Spieth (I presume), my mind was all over the place after an inexcusable bogey on the first hole.
So this Saturday, it’s all about keeping my emotions in check on the golf course during competition, playing it one shot at a time and all those other clichés, and trying to figure out a way to finish better than I did in my first event.
You get better by playing in competition
Having talked to people who have played on the Golf Channel Am Tour, I’ve been trying to ascertain what those golfers took away from their experiences. In almost every case, whether they said it directly or not, it was adjusting to tournament golf, which can’t be replicated in casual golf, even with money on the line.
People are motivated by a variety of things, and one of those is fear. In tournament golf, it’s often fear of embarrassment, and for most golfers, that fear is far worse than losing a few bucks to a friend in a $5 Nassau. After all, at the end of the day, nobody wants to be last on the leaderboard. And the way I figure it, that’s not a spot I want to occupy either. It’s also the worst approach I can take.
Those who play tournament golf regularly get over that fear. Spieth, of course, had an epic meltdown on the 12th last Sunday, but he put it behind him quickly, by birdieing the 13th and 15th. For most of us, a disaster hole often wrecks the rest of the round, but to be successful in tournament golf, you have to employ Spieth’s mental toughness.
One friend of mine who played more than a dozen events on the GC Am Tour the last couple years had last place finishes early and wins later on. What was the difference? It wasn’t his golf swing; it was his approach. After playing in a few events, he realized his world wasn’t going to end based on his tournament failure and that allowed him to perform at his best. Of course, there are other factors in play, but you have no chance if you play tentatively. I saw a guy four-putt from two feet in my first event, and it was clearly from fear of failure.
Good golf stems from the right state of mind
So since my 88 in my first event, I haven’t been working on mechanics so much as I have attitude, and I’ve had a little help in that area from Steven Yellin, a coach who works at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at the Omni ChampionsGate near Orlando. Yellin is the author of The Fluid Motion Factor, which is both a book and a concept that allows you to access your best swings by emptying the mind of all the clutter that gets in the way. It’s not about having a positive attitude necessarily; it’s about not thinking about outcomes, having expectations or putting importance on any one shot. He’s had me work through a series of exercises and even hooked me up to something called a Focus Band, which Jason Day says has helped him vault to the top of the World Golf Rankings.
The Focus Band is a biofeedback device that works with a smartphone app. It’s a tool to help you develop a quiet mind, which is essential for playing your best golf. For me, it appears especially effective in the short game. Practicing with it while putting, for example, helped me go from 39 putts in the tournament to 32 in my next round. And although that wasn’t a tournament round, I had a totally different approach to my putting, one not driven by fear of missing, but rather the freedom of accepting the outcome, no matter what.
How this all translates on Saturday is yet to be determined, but a couple things are certain: I will be in a different state of mind at the Masters @ Magnolia, and I’m confident that the more tournament golf I play, the better I’ll get.