Frys.com Open: The First Hand is Dealt

Playing professional golf is a little like playing poker, you never really know how you’re going to play until the first hand is dealt, until that first round score is tabulated.

On the one hand, you play because you know you’re good. You play because you’ve had success at the game; you’ve shot good scores before, you can do it again.

Sometimes your patience is tested. In yesterday’s post, the defending champion at this week’s Frys.com Open, Bryce Molder, said after his win at the end of a pretty mediocre year:

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.

And that’s pretty much how good players approach the doldrums. You get the swing as free as you possibly can and hitting it pretty much where you’re looking. You get the putting stroke flowing to the hole knowing that you aren’t going to make everything. And you just sort of go along for the ride. You do the work of making yourself ready.

You practice diligently, you faithfully manage the physical fitness and strength component and you just play. And play. And play until nothing feels new to you anymore. It all feels like it always feels with no surprises. You get to the point where you don’t even think about your swing, you focus on lines off the tee and targets into the green. In other words, you just play.

So that’s pretty much what everybody on the PGA Tour is trying to do on an ongoing basis, doing the work, biding their time, waiting for the transformative golf to arrive.

Transformative golf is golf at another level. It has no swing thoughts or cues. It’s all about being on the ground, in the moment, and moving around the golf course target by target. It is effortless. It is easy. It can be exhilarating. And it always builds confidence.

That’s what happened to Aussie, Nick O’Hearn on Thursday. He cruised around the CorteValle Golf Club in San Martin, California, in 9-under par 62.

On the Tour since he was granted a Special Temporary Member exemption in 2005, O’Hearn has yet to win. Some would argue it’s because he’s a left-hander, others know that it’s his putting.

He’s used the long putter for some time now; I can’t remember seeing him with a traditional one. But this season, it seems the only thing the long putter is doing is keeping him in the game. He’s played in 23 events so far in 2012 and he’s only made the cut 11 times. And the culprit is his putting: he is ranked 171 out of 187 in the new benchmark for putting on the PGA Tour, Strokes Gained — Putting.

But lo and behold, he made everything on Thursday:

I started off having to make a few par putts, crucial ones, sort of four, five footers.

Once I made those it got me going. Then I made a few birdies on the front nine, which was my back nine.

It was a strange day. I turned the corner 4 under and thought, “Well, this is quite nice,” and then all of a sudden I got on a bit of a birdie binge there. So chipped in and probably made one long putt.

Other than that, I just hit the ball lovely all day and was able to hit it close. The rain has never bothered me. I’ve played the European Tour for so many years, so you get a lot of rain there. It’s very rare we get rain over here, so it was actually a nice welcome change.

He had two runs of three birdies in a row: 17, 18, and 1, and then 3, 4, and 5.

So when all the hands have been dealt, he comes out of the trance, looks around and discovers that he has a 3-shot lead over the trio of, Jhonattan Vegas, Nicolas Colsaerts and — Hooray! for him — Monday qualifier, Derek Ernst, out of UNLV.

Vegas out of Venezuela, was all the rage two years ago when he won Palm Springs in his rookie year. But this year, he’s been hobbled by a shoulder injury that’s finally starting to come around after taking four weeks off.

I mentioned Colsaerts in yesterday’s post. As a result of being named to the Ryder Cup for Europe, he is now automatically in the four majors and the four WGC tournaments. It’s not so far from there to the seven more tournaments he needs to meet the Tour’s minimum of 15 per year for membership. And here he is T2 in his first effort to make enough money to exceed the 125th on the Money List.

So for these guys, the patient waiting game for the breakthrough to come is over…for today…and now the wait begins to see what the second hand will look like.

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