Wells Fargo Championship Leaders on Playing in the Present

Some great ideas on staying in the present came out of today’s rounds by J.B. Holmes, Martin Flores and Phil Mickelson in the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina. Martin Flores went into the day tied with Angel Cabrera with a one-shot lead over Justin Rose and two over J.B. Holmes.

At the end of the day, Holmes shot 6-under to take a one-shot lead over Flores. For his part, Flores really held it together in his first attempt to defend a 36-hole lead. He shot a tidy 3-under with an untimely drive that led to a bogey on 18. Phil blew the doors off the place with a 9-under 63 to slip into 3rd by himself. Cabrera went south with a 75 and Rose lost a little ground with a 71.

But what I found interesting was how eclectic the three leaders’ conversations were about methods they used to stay in the present. 

We begin with Holmes who was asked why his pre-shot putting routine was so lengthy and I never heard anything like this before. It is a reflection of his faith in God; its result a peace of mind that allows him to stay calm under pressure:

“Just trying to see the line and the shot and I’m repeating over in my head, just being thankful to be out here and grateful to be in this opportunity, and try to put into words what’s going on, and try to enjoy the moment, not to get ahead of myself, and just have fun.”

And that well is deep enough that he goes there during all aspects of his game:

“Anytime you get a chance to win a tournament it’s a great tournament, and you feel good because this is what you work to get to. And I’ve worked hard to get here and just going to enjoy it, and I’m happy to be here and looking forward to playing tomorrow.”

What was great about Flores round was that he was supposed to fold with all this new pressure he was experiencing. But he didn’t:

“Yeah, it was a great day.  I played really, really well.  I drove the ball extremely well, even though I had a hiccup on 18.”

“I was very pleased with the day.  That’s the first time I’ve ever played in the final group, felt great.  I was really aggressive.  I wanted to go out there and go get it and, you know, I want to do the same thing tomorrow.”

So now he improbably is one shot out of the 54-hole lead that he isn’t supposed to have and he will put Saturday’s shiny new lessons to work on Sunday. Now he’s older and wiser and experienced in the milestone of holding the overnight lead:

“It will be just like it was today.  My mind‑set doesn’t change.  I know there is a lot more pressure tomorrow.  I’m sure there will be more nerves, I’m sure I will be a little nervous, but I was nervous today.  That’s not going to change anything that I’ve done.”

So was that nervousness responsible for hitting his drive into the water on 18? And this is where we catch an initial glimpse of just how hard he was working to detach himself from everything around him except what he was trying to do on a shot-by-shot basis:

“No, not really.  I mean, I don’t see why — I didn’t look at a leaderboard all day.  I just thought that was irrelevant, because there are so many good players out here that if you’re not attacking and trying to move forward, you can get passed.”

“So I didn’t even know where I was.  I knew I was playing well.  But, you know, I just didn’t think the leaderboard was important, and I hooked it in the water — hit a great approach after that, and I gave myself a look at 4 and I was happy.”

Asked if he thought he was ready to win, we see again his confidence born of his experience on Tour. This guy is now a player and he know it. There is inevitability in his answer, not equivocating hopefulness:

“Absolutely.  I don’t see why not.  Why not me?  You know?  I’ve been working really hard, feeling great about my game.  I’m going to go out there and attack.  If I win, I win. If I don’t, I don’t.  I’m going to keep working until I do.”

And here we get the details of his reclusive behavior that kept him so calm. How many times have I probed deeper with players in interviews to find out how, exactly, do you go about executing all the little homilies they espouse about one shot at a time and staying in the present? When things got cookin,’ Flores didn’t even experience any adrenaline rushes.

“I didn’t think so today.  I was so into what I was doing.  I just kept telling myself, let’s focus on this shot, let’s stay, basically, get in your book, the yardage book, go through what you’re doing, talk through the shot.

I didn’t really feel a lot of adrenaline, just because I was basically oblivious to everything around me.  I wasn’t really paying attention to anything except me and my caddy and what we were doing.  I guess if I was more conscious of everything that’s around me, probably so, but not today.”

So was all of this communing with his caddy unusual for him?

“Not at all.  I just made a much harder effort to be into it.  As far as paying attention to my business, not — because I had never been in a final group.  I didn’t know what it was going to be like, what to expect.  So I just went out there and acted like it was the last day and I wanted to go get it.  I want to do that tomorrow.”

In his post-round euphoria over a sort of breakthrough round for him, Phil was asked if it took any pressure off of him?

“Well, I’m not feeling pressure, to be honest.  I’ve taken it off a little bit; I’m not worried about the results.  I’m not worried about winning.  I know that my game is not that far off.  Today is good evidence of that.”

“Even yesterday when it was 3‑over par round, the game didn’t feel that far off; I just wasn’t quite getting the ball in the hole, and that tells me that I don’t need to do anything drastic.  I don’t need to change anything big, I just need to fine tune.  I need to get my wedge and my short irons sharp again.  I need to get my ball in play off the tee, and get that touch on the greens, and today I seemed to have ’em all together.”

And in this last quote from Phil, here’s prima facie evidence that when you try to probe deeper with a Tour player about mastery details, as helpful as they try to be, they are at a loss for words. It comes out something like the old definition of beauty, “It’s hard to describe, but I know it when I see it.”

“I don’t know how to describe it.  It certainly feels good, and things seem to slow down, but when you’re in it, it’s a lot of fun.”

With these three clustered at the top of the leaderboard, Sunday should be interesting.

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