Open: Everybody Has Their Reasons for Playing

The Open begins Thursday on the CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California. Just south of San Jose, the Robert Trent Jones Jr. design is situated among the oak studded, golden hills that are the trademarks of Northern California.

Once again, few of the superstars of the game will be there, the top ranked player being Ernie Els who resuscitated his slowly fading career with his win at this year’s British Open. And he talked about it a little bit in his sit-down with the media:

I don’t want get into it too much, but a lot of fans, you know, some of them said they thought I was ready to retire and now they’re happy to see me around for another couple of years with an opportunity to win some more.

So it’s really been kind of a revival from both ends, from my end and the fan’s point of view.

And when the fans turn around for you, they really turn around:

So much support.  It’s amazing when you struggle and you don’t really feel the love as much.  Then you win a major — and I’ve been around for almost 20 years on this tour — and all of a sudden, you know, it’s like a revival in interest and energy from the fans.

It just makes you feel so special.  It’s a real special feeling that you have so many fans, and people really want to show their encouragement when you win.  It’s hard when the player is down the way I was last year.  It would be difficult for me to root for a guy that’s down all the time, you know.

So when I won now, the people have written me letters and the support I’ve had has just been unbelievable.  Just been really great.

Bryce Molder is the defending champion and he is naturally thrilled to be back on a golf course that gave him his one and only win on the PGA Tour. But 2012, instead of being a launching pad, turned out to be a little strange:

Yeah, it’s been a strange season.  Every year is strange.  Every year has its own personality and surprises, good and bad.

I had the best start of the season that I’ve had.  I’m usually a slow starter, and I had a great three, four months.  Since then I’ve struggled with my game some and just been fighting a little bit.  Had a couple positive things happen in the last six weeks, playing well, being in a couple final groups there in Boston [at the Deutsche Bank, the second playoff tournament].

Yeah, so funny year.  But you never know when things are going to really turn around.  This is about the time of year it turned around last year, so you never know.

And he also had some very interesting things to say about how your perspective on a golf course changes from year to year…and it’s sometimes a “tell” on the state of your game:

I played the course today and I felt like I hit a lot of the good shots and I think I made four birdies.  I had 7‑under I think both days on the weekend [last year], and I’m thinking, “Wow, that’s hard to do.”

Sometimes that happens, the golf courses seem easier or harder after playing well or poorly. Yeah, I certainly went around today going, “Wow, the golf course seems harder than I remember it a year ago.”

He also had some interesting things to say about the process of becoming a competent PGA Tour player. He was asked if his win made him feel any different as a player:

You know, I’ve tried to not let it make me feel any different.  As far as the process, I feel like to be able to win was to separate myself from the result and get heavily into the process.  It’s a hard thing to do, but I worked on that for a long time.

So I’ve tried to really make it about the process [and that] has been correct for a long time.  We just got some really fun, cool results, let’s celebrate and enjoy, and then move on and try to get even deeper and deeper in the process.

That’s kind of a long‑long journey of the career, because otherwise I think if you ride the results you’re going to have the rollercoaster ride.

I felt like I was able to see things in the correct perspective.  It was a really cool week, really fun.  It didn’t change who I am as a person.  Just one of those really cool moments that takes some time to enjoy it, let it sink in, and then move on.

I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel like kind of a validation for some pretty good play along the way.  To be able to get a tournament win, it was nice just knowing in the back of my mind knowing, All right, well, I had done it before, so it’s right there.

Then it always helps to know that early in that last year I was struggling, I didn’t make it very far in the FedExCup playoff, and then I came here and won.

So it’s always nice knowing you’re never that far off.  Sometimes we feel like we can do exactly what we want on the golf course and we think we’re better than what we are; sometimes we think we’re terrible at times and that’s not the case either.

So it’s never that far off.

And then there’s the long-hitting Belgian, Nicolas Colsaerts. He’s in the tournament for a whole other reason. Seems his stint on the Euro Ryder Cup team has created the possibility that he could play his way into a dual membership on the PGA Tour. So he’s here to see if he can play his way into being able to choose if that’s something he really wants to do. But he is strongly attracted to the idea:

Well, I mean, the situation I’m in now, when I heard I had the possibility to join, have this possibility of joining the Tour over here is almost something we shouldn’t be discussing about [because it’s such a no-brainer]. When you get a chance to play this Tour with all these players, the courses you play on on such a big stage, it would be stupid not to consider it.

I’ve always played in Europe for a lot of years. It’s an unbelievable tour to play on and get your grades up, but once you get a taste of what the possibilities here are, you know, they get you pretty excited.

Like I said, I’m really excited to come and discover new places over here, new golf courses, and play against this great bunch.

And it helps that he has a bunch of European players he can talk to who have managed to successfully juggle the requirements of dual membership like Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, et. al. with Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood just getting into it. And the aesthetics are something else too:

The conditions of the courses; discovering new places. I’ve been to the U.S. quite a lot, but when you realize how many unbelievable golf courses you have around the country, it’s quite unbelievable for somebody like me coming from such a small country to have a chance to play golf around an unbelievable country like you have and play these fantastic courses.

I have to say I have a little thing for Five Guys Burgers. (Laughter.)

And finally, the biggest reason that players play in these “Fall Series” events is to earn their Tour cards for next year or improve their positions. For those who have doggedly labored in the process of getting better, now comes the annual test: can you finish in the Top 125 on the Money List?

This tournament will go a long way to answering that question for them. There are still two more after this one, but it would be nice to complete the goal sooner rather than later.

But then, cunningly, even having that thought is not staying in the process.

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