Jordan Spieth on Playing Fearlessly

Today I had a opportunity to give an interview to a reader who is expanding his reach by doing podcasts on his game improvement website that I’ll have more to say about early next week. One of the questions Tony asked me in closing out our 30 minute session was what “tasks” I would recommend to his listeners that would help them improve their games?

By tasks, he meant, as in a problem to be solved, not just a tip to try an implement that is just rote “direction” without any real learning and discovery (my interpretation of his words, about which he may give more precise meaning to next week). And I realized that I recently come across just such a task.

Last Saturday, I played with a member and his wife who was a successful doctor and a bit of an anomaly from the stereotypical golf-crazed doctor: he didn’t get to play a lot. 

As a result, one of the things I noticed as we played was that he had a lot of very good technique, but he was very stiff in his execution. It showed up particularly in his short game where he had a number of chunked and bladed chip shots.

When he expressed his exasperation late in the round, we had enough of a relatedness at that point that I was able to speak to him in a very direct way that didn’t make him wrong and wasn’t accusatory, even though the words may read that way.

“You need to learn to trust yourself more. You have very good technique even though you can’t practice all that much. You just don’t trust it. It’s not just you. That’s all that Tour players are working on, trying to trust what they know how to do. They have the advantage of being able to get the ‘reps’ in so that they have something to trust, but you have enough even where you are.”

“This is a truth that you will eventually discover as you continue trying to find practice and playing time: the only thing missing in your game is trust. So you might as well leap over all the time you think you have to spend to develop trust and simply just trust it now.”

He chipped in on 18 to end his day in glee.

I was reminded of this little vignette because of my interview with Tony, but also by Jordan Spieth’s interview today at the HP Byron Nelson Championship at the TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

It’s a home game for Spieth even though it’s not his home course. He grew up in the Dallas area and was so well known as a junior golfer, he received a sponsor exemption as a 16 year old in 2010. Not only did he make the cut, he “played well on Saturday and somehow got my way into contention.” (He finished T16: 68, 69, 67, 72).

And that got him talking about the differences between Jordan Spieth then and Jordan Spieth now:

“I don’t even remember what I was like back then.  I think that on course I’m definitely a different player. I’m less emotional, believe it or not, by far.  I’m able to think through entire holes ahead of time a little better and I have more shots and most of all a higher comfort level of hitting different shots.  I think that’s the difference.”

“When you’re a teenager and you’re in high school and developing your game versus when you’re doing it every day, hundred and hundreds of times, you start to develop a comfort level to play.  If you need to play a flop‑shot from here or you need to hit that bunker shot right at the ball to carry it 30 yards, I don’t have this ‘scared’ mentality that on certain shots you have back then. Even though I was an extremely aggressive player, certain shots you bail out of that you don’t anymore because you practice them enough.”

“So I think with the amount of repetition, I have a different comfort level on the course and although once the first tee shot was hit back then, that was about as fearless of golf as you can play and that’s how I feel every week.  Get the right preparation done but now I just feel more prepared going into events.”

In other words, he learned to trust himself.

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