LPGA Founders Cup: A good place to work on your game

Remind me for next year: do not schedule a dentist appointment during the week of the Founders Cup. I am a creature of habit; when I finish up with my appointment, I always schedule next year’s to replace it in my rotation. And sure enough, this year’s fell smack dab in Founders Cup week. But it was Tuesday, so I thought I’d just go ahead with it. What would I miss?

Well it turns out, once you get here at the JW Marriott at Desert Ridge here in Phoenix, Arizona, your head is pretty much on a swivel. Anywhere you look are young women who can play the game way better than you can. 

I swung by the putting green on the way to the range and everyone is fully engaged in one drill or another, experimenting with one swing aide or another. There are occasional collegial conversations with friends, but for the most part, everybody is there to do some serious work on the fifty percent of the game that most people take for granted. Hey, it’s such a little swing; what could go wrong?

When you get to the range, the pageantry becomes a little bit more uniform. The players are stretched across the 100-yard-wide range in a straight line with their caddies, bags and coaches just behind. Others come in and out of the space to say hello, watch the swings or bring a club over from the equipment vans pushed against the right edge of the range.

The colors in their outfits and all their various headcovers is like a bed of flowers. And as I have said many times before (Something In The Way She Moves), there’s nothing like an athletic woman taking on a defenseless golf ball. Not only is it a thing of beauty, most people think they can learn a lot more from the more accessible swings of the LPGA players than they can from the ball crushers on the PGA Tour.

So I got my last round of the week in on Monday and was finally ready to endure a week without playing golf. And to my point about the player’s swings, I gradually found myself standing behind Michelle Wie. And she was working on the very same thing I was working on on Monday, keeping my right elbow tucked instead of dangerously flying around out of control. I had seen David Leadbetter walking back to the putting green on my way to the range, so I thought that it was no accident that she was working so diligently on her drill.

As you want to do when you’re trying to get your body’s attention, she was exaggerating the motion way out of proportion. She was dropping that elbow tight to her rib cage and almost scrunching into a standing fetal position as she repeated a preposterous move to her left side. I got a chance to ask her about it in her media room interview session:

So I’m halfway through writing today’s piece, and where I left off was describing the drill you were doing on the range today trying to get your elbow tucked in nicely and how you were really exaggerating that in order to feel it, I presume. Could you talk a little bit about why you felt a need to work on something that was so basic, and could you talk a little bit about the process of overdoing it and exaggerating it to get it?

You know, it’s just something that I’ve always kind of been working on because I am so lanky, I have long limbs and I have fast hips, so everything is just about timing and matching everything up. That’s just something that David and I have been working on, so trying to get more connected from my upper body to my lower body.

So you work on that drill pretty regularly then?

Uh‑huh.

Later, she responded to a question about trying to recapture the swing feelings from her long sought after U.S. Open:

I think after winning the U.S. Open it gave me a lot of confidence. Last year in general, too, definitely gave me a lot of confidence, but you always want to do better. I think as a professional athlete, if you don’t have that hunger that something’s not right, and I think you have to put the right balance between wanting to do better, but then sometimes wanting to be too good and wanting to —  just trying too hard.

I think that’s something that I struggle with internally is just trying too hard and trying to make everything so perfect, and I think that’s what I did so well last year is just letting go, letting go and just letting things happen. I think maybe this year I’ve just been trying a little bit too hard.

I’m kind of back in the mentality of whatever happens, happens. I’m definitely putting the work in. That’s the kind of mentality I have is I know I’m working hard. I know I’m putting in all the hours. I know that I’m doing everything I can, and when I just go out there, I’ve just got to let things happen and try to free things up for sure.

And so I tried to delve a little bit deeper into just how one goes about freeing things up.

In that process of learning to let go, you have to give up control. Can you describe at your level what it means to give up that control, what that process is like, and how iterative does it have to be before you finally can play freely?

Yeah, I mean, giving up control is probably one of the scariest things to me. I just want to always be in control.

But I think it’s just a mentality. I think you’ve just got to trust in yourself that you put in the hours, that you worked hard, and you know that if you do A, then B will come, you just can’t focus on the results so much, and that’s kind of what I’ve been focusing on is a process and just focusing on if I do this, then this will happen, and just focusing on the “this part.”

So that’s the lesson for the day from the LPGA  — and one its biggest stars to boot — and there are many more out here to be had. All you have to do is get yourself here.

The tournament parking for those of you who are locals is in the Arizona Horse Lover’s Park just south of the 101 on Tatum and is just past the Musical Instruments Museum. They’ll stick you in one of those modern, room-with-a-view “coaches” and deliver you with dispatch right to the driving range in air conditioned comfort for your own personal golf lesson.

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