Suzann Pettersen must have had a flash of uncertainty about how Sunday at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Oregon, was going to work out for her when she made double bogey on the second hole, a modest 150-yard par-3. Nothing more than an 8-iron, she said.
Oh, and it didn’t help that she was playing with a resurgent Yani Tseng, a good friend, who began her day with a 3-shot lead over Pettersen.
But the thing that helped her get through that moment was a commitment she made before she teed off:
I decided before I went out just not have too many reactions, good or bad. I knew there was birdies out there if you really get it going. I just tried to put it behind me.
To say that there were more birdies out there was an understatement. Pettersen had an immediate “bounce back” birdie on the 3rd, a string of four on 5 through 8, two more on 10 and 11, and a final one on 13. No mean feat to make 8 birdies in 11 holes without a blemish.
I tried to go out there today and give myself chances. Don’t really have any reactions, good or bad.
Which was a big ask because she wasn’t feeling all that comfortable with her game:
I wasn’t feeling awfully, awfully good with my long game, but I felt good with my putter. Once I kind of got going and felt like I could hit fairways and greens and gave myself a look, I felt like I made a lot of clutch putts.
And I guess that was what made me win today. The putter was definitely a good friend of mine. It has been all week.
She was asked if her ability to actually remain emotionally neutral in the face of such high drama was a sign of maturity?
Maturity? I have my good days and my bad days. I guess maturity kind of — I don’t know if that’s too consistent.
You know, in golf, for me, I mean, it’s probably my head. For me to bounce back with a birdie on the next one, 3, leave that behind me, knowing that it’s enough holes to get the job done definitely helped.
If I had double bogeyed like 16 and kind of given away the lead, it would have been different. There was still too many good birdie holes coming after that.
I mean, I just seemed like I played so well over the last couple of weeks. It was almost hard to stay patient enough. You feel like you just want to fire at every pin. Disappointed when you don’t make a birdie because it feels like you should. I felt like I was mature enough today to get it done.
And get it done she did. As Tseng faltered down the leaderboard the rest of the day unable to remain neutral herself, a new threat arose in the form of British Women’s Open Champion, Stacy Lewis. Lewis had her own string of birdies early on, but she only managed four on the day and that wasn’t enough. Pettersen won by two.
Lewis did have the distinction of finishing the entire tournament without a bogey, the first time she had ever done that:
It was a little frustrating. I played really good, though, so I can’t be too upset.
A lot of those putts I hit exactly where I wanted to and they just didn’t go in. A bogey-free tournament I’ve never done before, so my coach [Joe Hallet] and I keep checking things off of his list.
Pettersen’s ability to control her emotions comes with a lot practice and the trick is not to avoid negative emotions like anger or positive emotions like unbridled joy. It’s to be so invested in the present — the golf — that the emotions don’t even come up.
Once you learn how to get deeply into the present, you discover its comforts. It’s peaceful. So when an unwanted emotion comes up, you don’t have to try to deny it or suppress it, you merely have to want to remain in the comfort and peace of the now.