You know the tournament is drawing near when the super stars of the LPGA begin to show up in the media center for interviews. And so, we are on the brink of the opening round of the JTBC Founders Cup at the Desert Ridge Marriott here in Phoenix, Arizona. Today we had Suzann Pettersen, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park.
Rolex No. 2, Suzann Pettersen began by giving us a sense of how her Asian swing had gone:
You know, you have gotta play a lot while you’re young, so I’m just really trying to knock out a few tournaments. Asia was quite good to me. I played really good to start off in Australia. I had one lousy round, kind of shocked my body a little bit. And Thailand, Singapore were decent events, got a lot of good answers to my game. This year all I wanted was to just get a lot of rounds in my body to be prepared for this swing starting here and obviously ending with Kraft.
So China was just a bonus event. I ended up going head to head with Inbee, so we had a nice little battle there. I lost. So she’s one up for the year on me, but I guess we’ll have a couple of battles to come.
So that gave me an opportunity to ask her some follow-up questions:
Q. Suzann, you said that the first couple of tournaments were to get some answers for your body. Can you say a little bit more about that, what you were looking for, what came out of it, what the process was like?
Yeah. I’ve always been a player that I don’t practice my way into form; I actually play my way into good form. That being said, you come off a five‑week stretch of practice and preparation, you feel like you have an idea where your game is at. You go out, sometimes you’re surprised how well you play, other times you’re like, well, yeah, it might take a couple of rounds before I get there.
In Australia I was actually playing fantastic golf just straight off the bat. And on Sunday in Australia I probably — I tried to be too brave and hit too many shots that I otherwise wouldn’t play, but stuff that I’ve been working on over the winter. And it’s almost like sometimes you just gotta get over the hurdles to be able to put those in play during tournaments.
But that probably wasn’t the best day to try that and especially not in those conditions where the wind picked up. It was kind of a tough slap in the face, but you bounce back, you learn, and like I said, I mean your sharpness comes by playing and competing, hitting numbers, hitting clubs, hitting shots. And that’s how my game gets sharper.
Q. Can you give us a sense of what you were working on over the winter, you know, to get from where you were at the end of the year to where you wanted to begin?
I’ve been trying to get a little more speed through impact. That’s pretty much it. So with the driver I have second gear now if I really need to. Not too technical. I feel like I’m at a place where I can kind of consistently compete week in, week out, obviously tons of short game, tons of putting.
But overall probably the majority of my practice was dedicated to, I don’t know, it’s like 70/30, long game/short game, and then in periods of time there was just short game. So yeah, a lot of practice, a lot of repetitions and less course stuff.
Q. So more speed, obviously, but still stay in control.
Q. So how do you keep it in control when you’re going to that next level?
That’s repetition. Reps.
I wanted to go a little deeper on her answer that it was reps. I wanted to get into just how was she monitoring the reps; what was she bringing to each swing that allowed her to be amping it up, experiencing breakdowns and running back up to the redline. But it was a question better left for an exclusive mastery interview to allow her to be expansive in her answer.
Next up was Stacy Lewis, Rolex No. 3. In her remarks at the beginning of the media session, she said that she had worked on impact in the off-season, hit the ball better than ever in the Bahamas, the first tournament of the year, and then it drifted away when she went to Asia:
And so I mean I knew we were working on the right things, and I don’t know if going on the other side of the world we just kind of went backwards a little bit, but we’re just trying to get impact a little bit stronger. I can do it. I know I can do it. It’s just kind of getting those reps in and learning how to maintain it a little bit.
Q. Stacy, you talked earlier about working on impact and how you got it really fine tuned. Can you talk a little bit about, generally, especially at the professional level, how these swing thoughts just sort of drift away, where did they go, how do you get them back?
Well, the swing thoughts change every day, for me at least. I usually try to pick out one little thing before a round and kind of take that going forward. But we’re always tweaking, we’re always kind of just — you can always do a little bit better, whether — and a swing thought is different sometimes a driver versus an iron or a wedge.
We’re playing with different things so much; I mean we’re always tweaking it. But it’s about doing drills to maintain it — so whether it’s on Monday, you just sit on the range and do drills all day. You know, you’re just trying to maintain your swing so it’s the same all week.
Last up was Rolex No. 1 by a large margin, Inbee Park. She won six tournaments in 2013 and three in a row beginning with the U.S. Women’s Open. Hard to beat that. What was so impressive about her was her poise and confidence. She articulately spoke idiomatic English as if she been doing so for years. In fact she moved to the United States when she was 12 years old, graduated from high school in Las Vegas and briefly enrolled at UNLV before dropping out to play professionally. But I didn’t remember her as having great command of English, perhaps because she comes across as shy. Whatever she’s been doing in that realm has been spectacularly effective.
In some of her opening comments, she talked about how much the first three tournaments she played so far this year gave her a sense of a much improved game:
The last three tournaments I had this year was quite good. I played quite good, and I hit the ball great.
I probably didn’t putt it as good as last year these three weeks, but my ball striking, my physical is stronger. I think I’m mentally a bit stronger, especially from the victory two weeks ago. I feel a lot more confident, and yeah, I feel good about the season.
I, of course, was interested in the “mental” part of her comment.
Q. Inbee, you mentioned that you got stronger mentally over the season. Can you say a little bit about that? In what ways, and what you were doing to get there?
I think it’s just mostly, you know, what happened last year, and what things I’ve gone through last year helped me really going through the pressure, pressure moments.
And you know, being in contention a lot of times last year, and being in contention a lot of times last year and being able to win in that kind of conditions gave me a lot of good confidence and good experience, and I think that’s been really helping me go through this year. And I won the first tournament last year, which was a really good start, but still, this year I finished Top 5 on two and won one event, so I think it’s probably the best start of the season I had so far.
So yeah, I’m feeling — I trained a lot last year in Australia, like physically, and I feel like I’m striking the ball a little bit better than last year and probably hitting it a little bit further than last year.
Q. So when you came off those three wins in a row beginning with the U.S. Open, you had to be thinking that you were invincible.
Those times, I think it’s very good performance.
A very humble response…and an example of her nuanced understanding of English.
The interview segued into how her one-year stay as the number one player has increased her visibility and what she’s enjoyed the most about it:
I gotta say being on the center of the stage and being in the spotlight, I think I’ve enjoyed that and at the same time I think that was the toughest part of it.
That struck me as entirely consistent with what I saw as new-found confidence in the public arena. And that made me think of the piece I wrote about her trip to New York with her U.S. Open trophy.
Q. It seemed like your trip to New York with your U.S. Open trophy was like another step up in terms of your public visibility. Was that enjoyable or was it something you felt like you had to do? Where do you come down on that one?
Yeah, it was I think a very good experience and it was good fun. I mean I do a lot of things like that in Korea, you know, but in America obviously I’ve never done that before, so I think that was something new and different. So I think it was very good.
And so did everyone else.
So all in all, it was a good first day at the Founders Cup and I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.