It was a long day that never ended at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. There was over a two-hour delay for rain and fog at the TPC San Antonio and neither was completely dissipated by the time they let the first group go.
How do we know that? Because first-round leader (4-under 68), Pat Perez, was in that first group at 7:30. By mid-afternoon, it was in the 80s. (Even so, there were guys in the afternoon wave who still had to finish eight holes when night fell):
Yes, this morning it was freezing and felt like it was snowing and we hit balls — I hit balls in four layers of clothes. Now I’m sweating. It was a tough morning but fog delays and rain delays, I’ve been through so many now you kind of bide the time and it’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get mad. It’s going to be a long day after that.
A long day, indeed. His started at 4:30 in the morning:
I knew I was going to be here for a while. I knew I was going to be here until at least 9. I was up at 4:30. I was on the balcony.
It was cold and rainy. Knew it was going to be a long morning. There’s nothing you can do. It’s fog and even when we teed up we couldn’t really see what was going on. It was cold and rainy. It was actually miserable.
You know, I’ve been through enough.
When you think about the course and how you’re going to play it, it’s always a sunny day and probably windless. But it doesn’t always work out that way. And seasoned veterans like Perez know how to handle this exception to the rule that happens all too frequently:
So, you kind of take yourself down, at least I take myself down. When it’s time to go, I try to get ramped up again.
And because Perez is working just on knowing where his club is and what his club face is doing, it makes it easier for him:
I’m still working on trying to get my club face and club and swing path matched up so I don’t really think about, you know, score or what’s going on. I’m trying to just hit the shot that I need to hit at that time.
So, it’s different. I used to worry about scoring and all this other stuff. Now I’m just trying to hit the shot that it calls for and, you know, I’ve been able to hit it pretty good and I get myself in some positions [to win] and now I got to try to close one out.
And while the course was certainly difficult in those early-morning conditions, the course doesn’t seem to matter much anymore either. With this new awareness of his swing, it could be any course:
I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what my swing is doing and what the ball is doing. I feel like I can play well at any course. Some days I don’t have it and it goes sideways and shoot 78 or whatever it is. But, you know, I feel as confident as I ever have with my ball striking and where the ball is going to go. And if I can make a couple putts, I feel like I can shoot a pretty good score.
Yes, 68 in those conditions was a pretty good score. But it was the way that he did it that separates the Tour players from we mere mortals. In those awful conditions, he made seven straight pars, birdied 8 and parred 9. In the groove by then, he birdied 11, but bogeyed 15. So, stuck on 1-under with just three holes to go. No problem; he birdied all three.
The other reason he just works on getting around the course shot-by-shot is that he’s been at all of this long enough to know that expanding your attention beyond that doesn’t have a very high reward quotient, at least for him:
You can’t worry about all that stuff. It’s out of your control. You got to have a lot of things go right in the week to win.
When I won, I was No. 1 in putting and had lucky bounces off of the cart path. You got to play well, too, but you have to have a lot of things go right. Lot of things have to go your way for four days.
I’m not worried about it. I’ve won and I’d like to win a lot more. All that stuff; everybody wants to. I’m just trying not to focus on that and, you know, play a hole at a time and all those cliches that you hear all the time. But they really are true.
That’s not to say that he’s not expert enough to get in and out of deep awareness facilely enough to be able to check out a scoreboard or two as he goes. He doesn’t become a zombie:
I wouldn’t say scoreboard watch to watch. If I’m standing around I’ll see how someone is doing or might look for a friend or whatever, but Thursday you’re not — you’re not worried about, you know, scoreboard. I’m just kind of looking around and just checking stuff out.
Off the course, he’s not doing much either. Most players work hard with their trainers. Perez gave that up:
I quit training and exercising. I feel better (laughter). I didn’t play a practice round. I got in Tuesday night. I played the course blind [a course he hadn’t played since 2010; these guys are good].
He’s discovered that you have to listen to your own instincts and has pretty much found the way things work best for him:
Everyone’s got their own thing. Guys like to workout for two hours. I used to do that stuff and always got tired and my body was aching and this and that.
You know, I don’t eat very well and I don’t work out anymore and all that stuff that everybody else does. Lot of guys do.
I understand my golf swing and ball flight and all that stuff. That’s why I’m playing well this year. I don’t hurt, nothing aches. I’m hitting it far. I’m hitting it somewhat where I think I should hit it.
Somebody told him he looked healthier:
I don’t know about that. That’s not from doing anything special.
And suddenly it dawned on another reporter what Perez’s philosophy implied:
Q. So that’s the reason why golf is so complex, because there’s not a formula to accomplish —
Tiger works out harder than anybody and he won 14 Majors and that’s worked for him. I don’t know. You know, I don’t know.
Then everyone copied what he did and, you know, very few — will catch his 14 Majors but Tiger is a very rare individual when it comes to golf and they come along every blue moon.
And you look at guys like Tim Herron [the beloved Lumpy]. He has been out here 18 years. Would anybody follow what he does? Nobody would follow what he does. The guy has been out here, won four times, out every year. If he was walking by, you would never guess he plays golf. So I mean you got both ends of the spectrum there.
But he was able to distill his thoughts about this down to the one true thing about golf:
I don’t think there’s any formula other than knowing where your ball goes and getting it in the hole as fast as possible.
All of this came about because he “happened” to run into his new coach, Joe Mayo, at the TPC Scottsdale. Everything changed after that:
Since then I put more work into my game to try and hit the shots that I want. By the time I’m done I’m just tired. I want to go and relax. I’ve been out here 8, 9 hours practicing all day, everyday. I’m hitting it, I’m hitting it plenty far, I think.
I’m not going to be one of these long drive guys that hit it — Dustin Johnson or Robert Garrigus, 340, 350 — never going to be me. That’s fine.
If I can keep it in play and know where it’s going, I might have a chance to beat them. That’s the approach I have right now. I may change, but for right now that’s what I’m doing.
One of the greatest gifts that golf gives to us is coming to know ourselves. It comes from this constant deep introspection we find ourselves in that looks to non-golfers like we’re merely trying to hit a little white ball.