Timeless Mastery Lessons From the LPGA Tour

The first round of the CME Group Titleholders event at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, is in the books and some very useful ideas came out of the player interviews. Everybody’s sort of laid back and enjoying the last tournament of the year and that’s led to some experimenting and reinforcement of ideas that have helped them in the past.

Sandra Gal

Sandra Gal shot 8-under 64 to take a one-shot lead over the young Canadian, Rebecca Lee-Bentham.

Sandra is a very interesting player because she is so smart, so willing and so thoughtful about what it takes to play the game at its highest level.

She has transcended the routine conversations about swing mechanics and basically traffics in playing to very precise targets, hitting shots that move at will rather than making swings and the secret to being able to play aggressively: acceptance. 

I thought this tournament was a little different than the other ones, so I thought I’m just going to be really aggressive and just go for everything because really all you want to do is win here.  Any other place it doesn’t really matter that much.  So that’s kind of the mindset I had and I think that really helped me and I just kept rolling in putts.  Started with six in a row, so that was kind of fun.

She had a chance to work with her coach, Gary Gilchrist, and they just worked on the basics of ball striking and keeping it simple. But how she got there was quite interesting. The principle of thoughtlessness works because it puts you in a “see and react” mode, the body’s most effective state.

We just worked on ball striking and keeping it simple.  I’ve been shaping shots a lot and I’ve been doing it on the range just to kind of warm up.  So staying away from everything that’s technical and just really my warmup today, I was just draw, fade, draw, fade, and that’s what it felt like on the course as well, especially with those tucked pins, so I think that was a big advantage.

She’s not normally as aggressive as she was on Thursday, but it was a conscious choice, the first time all year.

No, I have not [been aggressive].  I mean, I do occasionally but usually it’s been more keeping it in the fairway for me and this week I just changed my strategy a bit and it worked out.

“Worked out” is an understatement. She began with six birdies in a row.

It was a lot of fun.  I kept enjoying it and just wanted to see how many I can do in a row.  The 7th one was actually right on line and just left it a little bit short, but it was just a blast. I kept reminding myself to be in the same mindset, to do the same things I did in the beginning.

Was there some sort of phrase that she uttered to herself that helped her stay in that mindset?

I wouldn’t say it’s a phrase, it’s more like a positive feeling or a positive attitude about the shot that you’re going to hit.  You know, you just want to go for it and enjoy it, you know, not be afraid of making mistakes.

I think you have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes, so that’s what I get the next few days, just do the same thing and be aggressive.  I decided today, once you accept that you might hit in the water, hit it in the bushes, but just go for it, usually it turns out better.

Rebecca Lee-Bentham

Rebecca attracted my attention because she shared how her day suddenly transformed from her worst fears into everything she wanted.

To be honest, like these past couple weeks I haven’t been hitting it too well.  This morning I was kind of in a panic mode, like I didn’t think this round was actually going to be this good.  Yeah, I feel like the day just went my way, ended up hitting it fine, ball went wherever I wanted it to and my putting was on today so that made all the difference.

That happened because she stopped obsessing over her swing mechanics and just went with an overarching key: tempo and rhythm.

I guess I just haven’t been hitting it the way I wanted to the last couple weeks and going into this round I wanted to be more confident in my shots, so I’ve been trying to figure it out, but I guess I was just insecure kind of with my swing.  I think my final few shots on the range before I went out, I just told myself think about tempo and rhythm and not to overthink everything.  I think that’s what helped me.

I birdied the 1st hole, 2nd hole, I guess that’s — when I had the two birdies, I was like, hey, just keep thinking about rhythm and that will help, so that’s what I did all day.

Lydia Ko

All eyes were on Lydia Ko on Thursday. It was her coming out party as a professional on the LPGA and people naturally wanted to know whether she would have a tough time now that she’s finally playing for money. She got off to a very slow start with a double on 3 and a bogey on 7. But then she reeled off four birdies from there to save her round with a 1-under 71.

Just normal.  It didn’t feel too odd or special or slow or whatever today.  That actually surprised me, I thought I would be much more nervous.  And actually one of the good things was I actually wasn’t thinking about any money or related stuff, I just tried to play my game, which was obviously very helpful.

I think score wise people were playing much better on the back nine.  I think there are more opportunities there.  You know, I just made a double on 3 and then bogey on 7 and that didn’t make things, you know, too well.  But I think my birdie on 8 kind of got my day going and I was pretty comfortable.

And finally, Lydia confirmed Sandra’s principle of “acceptance.” It didn’t come out directly, instead it came within her description of patience and how she got her slow start kicked into high gear.

My birdie on 8 definitely helped.  It kind of came in from the back of the hole, which was quite interesting, I thought I had missed it.  I gave myself opportunities, and par is sometimes good and all I can do is just set up birdie putts and then some will go in and some won’t.

Kind of off-topic, but something everybody has an opinion on, she was paired with Michelle Wie on Thursday and that invited a question about what she was thinking with respect to her continuing education. Not only is she still interested, but she gave us a sense of the timeline:

Yeah, I want to go to college.  I don’t know where I will.  I might go to Korea, but I might go to the States.  Coaches all around the world, I can only talk to them from January of next year.  It’s coming soon.  And I’ve got one more year of high school, so it’s quite hard to make the decision right now.

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