When we’re confronted with some big goal, something with complexity to it that demands all of us, we frequently wonder what it’s going to take to accomplish it? We know from experience that simply drawing up a to-do list isn’t sufficient. You could put a bunch of stuff on the list, but would it ever be complete? What is it that’s going to cause it to happen? What’s the one thing we’re not doing, that if we were doing that thing, our goal would be achieved?
And then, after we’ve achieved it, as Hunter Mahan did Sunday in winning The Barclays, the first of the four Playoffs tournaments ending the PGA Tour season, we are able to look back with wisdom that we didn’t have beforehand. That’s what happened to Mahan today and it all came pouring out of him in his post-round interview.
He began with an overview of his experience while it was fresh in his mind:
“I just felt good about kind of how I was playing going into this week and just stayed calm in my head and just relaxed and my swing and my game and just let everything happen. And it did and obviously made some huge putts coming down the stretch.”
So the golfer in us says, “Ah, ha! It’s making putts coming down the stretch!”
Well, of course it is. But it’s really more the, “calm in my head,” and “just relax,” that allows us to “just let everything happen.” There’s no list for that, it is a way of being that isn’t on some piece of paper.
But there was a methodology that allowed him to do the front end grunt work that set the table. Instead of trying to drink in the success in one gulp, he broke it down into one day at a time:
“I try to break it down into one day at a time. I’ve thought about that. I’ve thought about all that stuff and it’s just about having a good day and try to get better and try to know what I need to do to get better. And that continuation of work from day‑to‑day I think will lead to good results.”
“I felt that and I felt going into even the British Open, I was doing the right things and things were turning around and I was getting better. I obviously played good, solid at Bridgestone and the PGA. I just need to continue to work and keep going…”
And certainly all of that work on his game created the routine trust of his swing, but there are a ton of good swings on the PGA Tour that have never delivered on their promise. The ones that did were driven by more than just swing mechanics, they were driven by an attitude of allowing and, yes, believing.
He had said that he actually envisioned a win this week. Had he had that feeling at any other time? Could he describe that feeling in more detail?
“Yeah, I felt it at the Travelers [his first win in 2007]. I felt really good. I remember sitting on the range Sunday morning at Travelers hitting balls and I just thought, this is my time. This is going to happen. I saw myself winning. I saw myself making the putts. At the Match Play Championship [that he won in 2012] it was kind of the same thing. I just got in the groove and I just was seeing myself winning there.”
“I felt so into the moment on every shot. I wasn’t behind and I wasn’t thinking too far ahead. And I just was so in the moment and focus on what I had to do right in front of me that I felt like that this week, just the history I’ve had here [a course record 62], I really was excited to play.”
So we look at our Goliath-like goals, in this case beating the top 125 players in the world and particularly Sunday’s leaderboard when the cream had risen to the top. And in the aftermath of actually doing it, we discover that the hardest part was getting out of our own way:
“It’s getting out of your way. It’s just allowing yourself to play golf and giving yourself an opportunity and not getting in the way, thinking about where not to hit it. Because there’s so many places here that it’s just jail. You can’t hit it there; it’s going to be a tough up‑and‑down; you can’t hit it over there, you can’t hit it over there.”
“[You can’t be thinking about bad shots.] You just have to be so focused on hitting a good shot, and especially on a golf course like this where it demands great shots on almost every hole.”
That is not to say that all of this is easy. It weighs on you when you keep waiting for success that you know should be here by now. At least that’s what happened to Mahan. Not only did he commit to doing the day-to-day spade work, he had a heart-to-heart with his coach, Sean Foley, to concentrate and amplify all of that work.
“It weighs on you a little bit, but I think you have to remember, I know I had to tell myself, I can’t go out there and try to win golf tournaments. I have to go out there and try to get better every day and just doing the little things.”
“I talked to Foley somewhere and I just was like, Foley, I don’t want to waste a shot anywhere, on the range, on the putting green, on a chipping green, on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I don’t want to waste a shot. And I want every shot I hit to have a purpose, a goal; I’m worrying about my alignment and setup and everything is in the right place. I don’t want to go out there and just go through the motions and put my time in. I’ve got make sure this stuff counts.”
“And he bought into that and I know I’ve been trying to buy into that quite a bit. I felt like it’s paid dividends. I just want to know that when I go home and play with my buddies, I’m not wasting a shot. I’m focused a hundred percent on that shot and trying to make the best swing that I can. It’s not about putting the time in. It’s about putting the right time in and putting the real focus onto every shot, because I think that’s what great players do. They don’t waste a second of practice time when they are out on the golf course.”
You read this and realize all of the thought and effort and giving of himself to it totally that he put into this…and you don’t really wonder so much about why he won on Sunday.