Russell Henley only managed a 2-under 68 in the first round of the McGladrey Classic. He assumed that that would put him close to the cut line at the end of the second, so his intention for Friday morning was nothing more than making sure that he made the cut.
He actually did a little bit better than that. He shot a 7-under 63 to take a 1-shot lead over Brendon de Jonge, Brian Harman and Andrew Svoboda. But he was at a loss on how to explain the difference between the two rounds:
“Well, I don’t know. I wish I knew. I definitely wasn’t super comfortable when I teed off [at 8:15]. It was chilly, and I haven’t played a tournament in five weeks. So I knew I had to play another good round today to make the cut, and I just tried to make sure I was going after it and swinging hard and not being tentative. So I was just trying to — that was my main focus and it worked out.”
And it didn’t help that he got off to a sluggish start: he bogeyed his first hole, the 10th. And then he sort of sputtered along until he birdied 14 to get that one back. And then he made the turn at 2-under after birdies at 16 and 18. At that point he was sure to make the cut, but you never know what the back nine might bring, so you keep trying to make birdies:
“Well, you know, I birdied No. 1. That was a pretty tough pin. I hit it right below the hole and hit a perfect putt right in the middle. And then kind of getting through 1, 2, 3, 4 hitting good drives on those holes is pretty critical.”
“2 is a pretty tough driving hole. I hit it left in the hazard yesterday. I think once I got those balls in the fairway, I just — I felt like it was just a hair easier. You know, compared to the day before, once I got on the green, I was already confident. So I just hit fairways on the first couple of holes and hit the green and gave myself some good looks and just made a couple of them and got some momentum. Other than that, I don’t know what happened.”
Well, what happened is that his stat, Stokes Gained – Tee to Green, at the end of the day was 9th best in the field at 2.937. But better than that — as if that wouldn’t have been enough — he led the field in Strokes Gained – Putting with a 3.727. And one of the reasons he was able to be so exceptional in putting is that he thinks of himself as a great putter.
One of my favorite posts of all time on EyeOnTheTour is “Psychology versus Ontology,” a post that came in the early days of the blog and whose purpose was ostensibly to introduce an old Golf Digest article by Dr. Bob Rotella, the preeminent Tour sports psychologist. He had prepared a list of the 10 things that players must do in competitive rounds. Good article.
But I pointed out that most of the things on his list involved “thinking,” remembering things you had to do to be successful, as opposed to simply “being” the great player you knew yourself to be. That required no thinking, you were just being in all your glory.
And as an example of this, I pointed to a glorious putting round I had when I was Monday qualifying on the Champions Tour at Silverado with a new caddie on the bag. I was quietly trying to explain to him — as he looked at me incredulously — why I was able to one-putt six times in the first 10 holes. It was because I believed myself to be the best putter in the world. Instead of thumbing through a checklist, I was simply “being” the best putter in the world.
And that is precisely who Russell Henley was being as he had his splashy results on Friday:
“You know, if you ask me, I would say I’m a great putter, and I think if you want to be a great putter, I think you have to believe that you’re a great putter. And you know, I would never make the argument that I’m better than, you know, Crenshaw or anything like that, but in my mind, I truly believe in myself as a putter.”
This concept is an integral concept in the transformation process: step into the role first and the doing will naturally follow. It was the idea I used to reduce my handicap from a 7 down to a 2 in the first four months of my Champions Tour quest, an achievement, in the heady air of single-digit handicaps, way outside of statistical probability.
What’s more, Henley reinforces this perception of himself once a day, every day:
“And every day at noon I have a reminder on my phone that says I’m the best putter in the world, and I’ve always had that since I guess reminders came out on phones. I don’t know how long that’s been.”
“But I try to just believe in my putting and enjoy putting, and people always tell me I’m a great putter, so it’s pretty easy to keep the confidence going when you’re doing that. I just wish they would say that about the rest of my game.”
His perception of his putting skills was a little wind aided in that he was relying on what other people were telling him about his putting. But he says he wasn’t getting those same outside accolades on the rest of his game.
This is where the transformation process is so important: it has to be self-generated because you’re the only one who has to believe it. It’s very gratifying when people say nice things about you, but you may have to wait some time for that. Better to choose the freedom of your own sense of yourself than the shackles of the opinions of others.
As for me, I still think of myself as the best putter in the world, even when I don’t have my best days. And my short game is still pretty good too.
And since I know first hand that these ideas work, I promise here and now to stop waiting for people to tell me what a great swing I have. Nice if they do, doesn’t matter if they don’t. It may not be that great, but it’s good enough.