John Senden: Trying Not to Think Too Much

John Senden won his second PGA Tour event on Sunday, the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor (Tampa), Florida. His first win was the 2006 John Deere Classic.

As a measure of how tough the course was in three days of windy conditions, his winning score was 7-under, one stroke better than Kevin Na. 24-year-old Scott Langley, the first First Tee alum to reach the PGA Tour, was 3rd at 5-under.

What’s interesting about Senden’s Media Center session is his complete candor about the mental pressures he felt himself under with respect to those tough wind conditions. Here for example, he explains why he brought his coach in for the week:

I’ve been working really hard with my coach, Ian Triggs and he was out here this week with me.  After two days I was 1-over and feeling like I was getting a little bit, you know, “busy with the mind” out there with the conditions. But I was trying to really concentrate on some good thoughts with the swing. 

I really thought my chipping and putting was right there for the week and managed to control my swing speed all day, both days on the weekend. That really felt like I was in more control mentally to handle the conditions, especially for this golf course.

There are moments in golf that are transcendent and very often lead to a burst of positive momentum. Senden experienced just such a moment with an unexpected birdie on the 16th. He missed his tee shot into the left trees and had to hit a big, creative hook around a tree, over a pond just hoping it would end up close to the green:

After my tee shot, I got a pretty good break there with hitting the tree and dropping straight down.  Then hit, I felt, a really good second shot to get it in some sort of position near the green. And then walking up to the shot I just had felt like okay, I need to hit a really good shot here to get this up and down and try to have a chance to do something down the stretch as well.

And then just got up there and just let it go and hit it and I thought it came out well.  It’s going to be in a reasonably good spot.  [Then] It disappeared.  Was amazing.  It felt good.

That birdie was fairly representative of his short game for the week. As he explains, not only do you have to have all aspects of the game in pristine shape, you have to believe that you do:

With all the good quality players out here on the PGA Tour, the young guys coming up now, you really got to do everything great, I believe, to win. And look, I’ve been doing a lot of things great but it’s about continuing to believe that I can actually do it.

This weekend was a chance for me to get out there and show that and especially coming down the stretch, it was one of those deals where it was up and down but I just knew that — I just had to hang about and try to change momentum somehow.

And in putting too, he discussed how you have to believe that you’re hitting good putts so that you don’t start unnecessarily trying to fix something in your putting stroke. But first you have to know that you have a good base:

I’ve been working hard with a number of people.  I’ve been working hard with Ian Triggs with it and Ian Baker-Finch gave me a few tips there awhile back and also Pat O’Brien out of Dallas, he’s been helping me out as well.

Saying that, it has really sort of improved a few issues in regards to the posture. And just working hard to lighten up and to believe that I’m hitting good putts all the time rather than just some of the time and letting the mental distractions change myself technically.  I believe that today was a good test and hung on.

One of the best prizes of a PGA Tour victory is that trip to the Masters. But he never gave it a thought coming down the home stretch because he was so engrossed in the moment:

I wasn’t really thinking about it at all, even today.  I was just thinking that I really wanted to work hard on my ability to stay present with what I was doing technically and especially mentally. It was about trying to work hard to believe that I can get it done.

If I was thinking about those issues outside, I think it would have distracted me away from all that other business.

After the birdie on 16, he canned a 22-footer on 17 to stretch his lead to two shots. Here he describes the momentum he felt from that. And in explaining his 38-footer on 18 that he hit within inches, he describes looking at the putt “lightly” and “felt it” rather than becoming all cerebral about it. (Better to look with the eyes of an artist.)

Yeah.  Sometimes I believe that when you have momentum going your way, you feel like that you got some calmness going on standing on the 18th hole.  Difference between leading by two and having to do something at the last to get it done. Whereas, I had the momentum to go forward rather than come back.

Actually felt a little bit nervous on the 18th tee being a little bit busy about the situation but on the second shot and the first putt on the 18th hole I felt pretty good.

It was one of those putts that I knew that if I looked into it too much, I’d be busy on it and probably wouldn’t have hit a good putt. I “looked at it lightly” and felt it.

I wasn’t really thinking of a perfect line.  I could see it.  I could see a picture.  That’s what I felt.

And it was a good thing he hit that putt within inches. That is not the time you want to have another challenging putt:

Right.  Exactly.  That’s something that can really sort of distract you as well.  You don’t want to think, “I don’t want to leave myself something to make because it is difficult.”  The biggest challenge is to hit putts or shots out there and try not to think what they’re worth.

Afterward though, I’m sure it gave him great pleasure to finally be able to think that that little putt was worth $1,026,000.

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