Daniel Summerhays: Getting Outside of Himself to Win

Daniel Summerhays is leading the John Deere Classic by two strokes over his playing companion, Canadian, David Hearns. The TPC Deere Run in Silvas, Illinois, continued its pliable ways; with just the guys who are playing well — those who made the cut — the course stroke average dropped just short of a full stroke from 69.203 to 68.236 on this par 71 layout.

But that was just the average; the guys at the top of the leaderboard did much better than that. Summerhays, 9-under 62; Hearns, 7-under 64. In fact there were three other 64s and Morgan Hoffman shot a low-pressure 63 from back in the field to move up to T12. The point is that there was a massive movement up by the field and that’s what Summerhays was facing by the time he got to the 1st tee: 

But it’s a strange feeling starting your day tied for 5th with two other guys, and by the time you tee off you’re in 15th place.

But in the past that’s kind of made me nervous, but I’ve learned to just tell myself, okay, it’s my turn now.  It’s my turn to make birdies and get out there, and I think that mentality helped me out there a lot.  I putted well, drove the ball very well, and I had a lot of fun interacting with the crowd, try and do that a lot, the kids and the fans and everything.

That’s hopefully kind of my mantra.  It’s not about me, it’s about everybody else.  It’s about them having a good time.  I feel lucky to be able to help them have a good time today and make a lot of birdies.

Selflessness is not only a very noble mantra, it’s a very effective mantra. It takes you out of your head and allows you to project yourself into others’ world. Because your focus is out rather than in, it takes the ego out of your drive train and allows you to function at a very high level. That selflessness is how Mother Teresa ended up beatified by the Catholic Church. I’m not comparing Summerhays deeds to Mother Teresa’s, of course, merely the catalyst that selflessness can be no matter the task to which you turn.

In addition to that , Summerhays has a pretty constructive “mentality,” mental approach to his game now:

Yeah, I think when I’m playing well the mentality is make as many birdies as you can.  If you miss a five‑footer, I think in the past I would have just been like, oh, what a blown opportunity, like the putt I left short on 13, to just say, oh, what a blown opportunity and get mad at myself and down on myself, and instead you just chuckle, say holy cow, how could I do that, and you just brush it off and continue on and say, hey, I’m going to make a bomb somewhere.  It’s not that you can get it back, but you can definitely find the resolve to do better.

I think there’s a quote, I wish I had it written out, but Bobby Jones, he said, there’s never been a round of golf that could not have been better.  Even if you shoot 59, it could have been better.  I’ve kind of just let that go, just stopped worrying, oh, I should have shot this, I could have done this, and just relish in what I have done.

So I think that mentality has really helped me a lot, not trying to be so perfect, not trying to — if I mis‑hit a shot, not try and analyze it so much, just pick myself up and move on to the next.

But I am, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.  I’m playing really well.  I know there’s going to be obstacles and challenges tomorrow, as there always are.  There are always things that stand in your way.  But I’m just excited to see what those are and deal with them and continue to learn.

Those last two sentences deserve to be revisited, “There are always things that stand in your way.  But I’m just excited to see what those are and deal with them and continue to learn.”

From there, from that view of the world, there is no fear, no nervousness, no trepidation. Just excitement to see what’s around the next bend in your life and an implicit trust in yourself that causes you to know that you can handle whatever it is…and that learning from whatever it is has value.

How did he gain this wisdom? Well, it is a team affair with a significant love component:

Yeah, I think [this mentality] ebbs and flows.  Sometimes you’re really good at it and other times you’re not as good at it.  But I think over the years things — just learning through experience.

I’ve got a really good group of people around me.  My wife, she’s everything.  She helps me — she’s the one who always tells me how great I am, and coming from someone who you love so much, that means a lot. My father, he’s always been there.  He always gives me the big picture.  I get so absorbed in the details, and I’ll have a chat with him.  He was out last week with me [where his T9 was his second-best finish of the year], and he just really puts things in perspective.

My caddie, my coach, all these people, I just feel like I have a really good nucleus of people around me, and I think that helps in the mentality.

But it’s something you just develop over time.

But doesn’t this interaction with the crowd take him out of the mental state required to play the game at the Tour level? What about this idea of “staying in the moment?”

Over the last couple years [interacting with the crowd] has been my effort because it actually relaxes me.  Everybody says, oh, stay focused, stay right here, everything.  Well, that makes me more nervous.

It actually calms me down when I can look people in the eyes out in the crowd and give people thumbs up and actually smile at them, give a kid a high five, that kind of stuff.

That calms me down, and I think there’s something to that in life, I really do.  Get outside yourself and you’ll find more confidence, more peace, more tranquility.

But in finding his way down this path, does he think that he’s been too hard on himself? And is this mentality giving him a break from this self-abuse and that’s why he’s playing better?

Probably, yeah.  But again, it ebbs and flows.  There’s been times where I’ve been just in the same mentality and I’ve played great, and then you reach for more.  You reach for more, oh, I can be even better, and then you start this little downward spiral, and then you hit the bottom, and you’re like, okay, I’ve got to let things [e.g. destructive criticism] go a little bit.  The key will be to realize a little bit quicker how to snap back out of it.

It takes a lot of self-discipline to let go of anger in order to diffuse the moment. As he points out, it begins by noticing that you do it in the first place and then realizing that you’re doing it “a little bit quicker.”

In time, that self-awareness becomes part of an amorphous whole that allows you to also include connection with other people and to your golf game, all at the same time. Now that’s being in the “mega” zone!

I don’t know about you, but this makes me really want to watch Daniel Summerhays in action of Sunday. Before he even does his winner’s interview that night, we will already know a little bit about how he did it.

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