Expectations

You have to see this. It’s a new, very cool feature the European tour has on their leaderboard page. It’s from the second round of today’s Dubai World Championship played at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. But it’s not your father’s leaderboard. This is a tab that allows you to see the color-coded, hole-by-hole results for the entire field…at the same time. Red is a birdie, blue is a bogey and black is a double-bogey or higher.

The first player that stands out is Ross Fisher at the top of the leaderboard with a flawless, 8-birdie round.

Right behind him is Ian Poulter, another flawless round with 6 birdies.

A stroke back from him is World #1, Lee Westwood, who “only” managed to shoot 5-under, but he did it with 7 birdies.

Francesco Molinari (5-under), the winner of the WGC in Shanghai, and Louis Oosthuizen (6-under), the British Open champion, are other interesting cards to look at; a slew of birdies punctuated by a couple of bogeys.

When you relax your gaze and look at the whole of it, it’s a sea of red with widely scattered bogeys. And I got to thinking, just what accounts for all this persistence? What accounts for all of this excellence? Why don’t bogeys blow up their rounds?

Well, to begin with, they’re touring pros. But not just any tour pros. These are the top 60 players on the European Tour. They were playing a Greg Norman-designed, “resort” course, i.e., wide fairways and “flatish” greens, that was only playing a short 7,017 er, ah, oh, wait. That’s meters. It was a long 7,675 yards. Much different. And while the greens may have been largely flat, Norman designed them with cunning, rounded edges: go pin hunting and miss and your ball can get caught in a runoff and end up being carried well off the green. On the other hand, it did help that it was 80 degrees and dead calm at game time, but still.

It all comes down to “being” and here’s a hierarchical construct that explains that:

–        They’re good players.

–        They know they’re good players.

–        The European Tour and World Golf rankings affirm that they’re good players.

–        As good players, they’re the ones who are playing well now, especially the ones at the top of the heap.

–        A good player playing well expects to play well.

–        When you expect to play well, you usually do.

The reason you play well when you expect to play well is that there is no tension or effort in your swing, tension and effort being the stone-cold killers of any golf swing. What’s required is fast-flowing freedom in the golf swing. Doubt, hesitancy, worry, fear, bind up a golf swing quicker than a wink. Binding introduces inefficiencies that upset timing in ways so subtle you barely notice unless you’re paying attention and know what’s happening. Most of the time, your body knows kinesthetically before you know it intellectually. And so it instinctively tries to compensate by sliding, turning (too fast or too slowly), bobbing (up or down) or with hand manipulation (flipping or holding off the release). With a clubface arriving at the ball randomly askew instead of assertively square, who knows where it’s going?

When you expect to hit good shots, you usually do. And when you hit a bad one, it’s the routine aberrations of golf; you clean up the mess with a short-game shot that you expect to be good. And then you get back in the groove with the next shot which you also expect to be good. And the next. And the next.

This is relative, of course, but applicable all up and down the golfers’ food chain. If you’re an 18-handicap and you go out expecting to make bogey on every hole, you’ll make your share of pars and minimize your double-bogeys. Over time, you’ll be a 15 and that’s almost another world, a different self-concept, “I’m no longer a bogey golfer.” All of this ultimately depends on how much you can play and practice and whether you can find a supportive coach to help you feel things in your swing you can’t feel now. But that’s always true for everybody: you get out of it what you put in.

So as with these great players in Dubai today, players can do more to improve their scores with little more than the expectation that they will. That little idea kicked off my nine-year effort to play on the Champions Tour and led to extraordianary results. Thoughts come and go, but with practice, a “way of being” is sustainable. Just because Robert Karlsson went from 65 yesterday to 75 today doesn’t mean that he won’t be expecting to play well tomorrow. Every now and then you just run into the vagaries and vicissitudes of golf. All things being equal, they don’t mean anything.

In any event, playing from, “I’m not playing very well right now,” is usually a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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