Polishing the Golf Mastery Process

I interviewed Hunter Mahan at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and one of the things he spoke about was that his swing was a work in progress. And a reader said that he’d like to know more about that process.

There’s probably no better examples of the process on the PGA Tour right now than rookies James Hahn and Patrick Reed.

As I mentioned during the writeup of Hahn at Pebble Beach (where he finished T3 gaining 1st alternate status into the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in LA), he is in that group of rookies that bunches together the top-25 Web.com grads with the top-25 and ties Q-School grads.

He was fifth on the Web.com Tour list so that put him fairly high up in the pecking order. Well, his string had run out, the pecking order rotated to others further down the list and Hahn wasn’t exempt into Riviera. But his top-10 finish hopscotched him to the front of the line, and when Hank Kuehne withdrew, Hahn was in.

But what made me think of this subject for a post was Patrick Reed. Reed earned his card by finishing T22 at the 2012 Q-School. One of the key things he did to prepare his game for the tour was Monday qualifying. Nothing focuses the mind like 144 guys playing for 3 or 4 spots into a tournament. And Reed managed to do it an amazing six times in 2012 making the cut in five of them.

To give you a sense of how good that was, we used to have “kings” when I was Monday qualifying on the Champions Tour, guys that routinely claimed one of the 3 or 4 spots. If they were in a Monday field, we knew we were playing for one less spot. But after successfully qualifying, invariably they would finish in the 70th to 78th place in our 78-player, no-cut tournaments. On the Champions Tour, it’s either win the tournament or back to Mondays. There is no advancement into next week by virtue of a top-10 like there is on the PGA Tour.

So Reed has played four tournaments in a row this year and with his T7 finish at Pebble Beach, he bumped himself up to 2nd alternate into Riviera. And when Jhonattan Vegas withdrew, Reed was in…again.

He will now be playing his fifth tournament in a row and I have no idea if he played in mini-tour events at the end of last year. In other words, I don’t know how rested he was coming into the year.

On my first Monday qualifying trip, I lined up five in a row. And by the time I got to the fifth one in Pittsburgh, my brain was fried and I could not wait to get home. So it will be very interesting to see if Reed’s efforts have legs into his fifth week.

And it is no trivial exercise here, because it turns out that the best thing you can do to elevate your game is to play. You can beat balls all day on the range while you’re learning the swing or putting in a new “move.” But the rubber meets the road when you actually play, and even more so when you play competitively. And even more so when the tournaments get bigger and better.

I had a friend who was trying to get to the Tour a couple of years ago and he was playing in Pepsi Tour events in Arizona that had less than 20 guys in the field. But he was bringing the amalgamation of all of his golf experience to these and he actually won one.

When you do things like that, you move beyond trying to make swing moves to its end game, being able to play with your attention on the target and the shot. And the more you have this transcendent and transformational experiences of playing well in competition, the more you come to believe and trust in your talent. And you begin to trust in your talent and not necessarily your swing. It explains why there are so many idiosyncratic golf swings that have made a lot of money for their owners.

Playing in competitive tournaments is one of the finest things you can do for your golf game. In the beginning, expect a lot of failures. But those failures and how you deal with them are all part of the process too.

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