It was pro-am day at the jtbc LPGA Founders Cup at the JR Marriott at Desert Ridge in Phoenix, Arizona, the day that all the players are accessible after they finish their pro-am rounds. Everyone is optimistic and upbeat about the coming week and the interviewing opportunities aren’t limited to just the players who played well on a tournament day.
The impetus for this post came out of a closing-minutes comment by Uncle Buck, the host of NBC Sports Radio’s, “For The Love of The Game.” We were talking about managing anger and I was making the point that anger is best handled with acceptance of bad shots. Not as in that they are acceptable, just that these things happen in golf; better to just accept it and move on.
And Uncle Buck said that sometimes he finds anger motivating and it helps him to play better. And as the segment-closing music was rising in our ears, he said, “Hey, Bill. Let’s do next week’s show on anger!” And as I faded into the ether, I squeezed in, “You got it, Buck!”
And so here we are. The following are interviews with Britanny Lincicome, Lizette Salas, Morgan Pressel, Stacy Lewis and Lydia Ko. And my opening question to each of them was basically the same:
At your level, you’ve learned to deal with bad shots; accept it and move on. You know that anger is counterproductive. But even at your level you get hooked by it sometimes. So how do you deal with those instances?
I mean it’s going to happen. You’re not going to be perfect throughout the whole eighteen holes. Luckily at the level with caddies who can kind of bring us back down to earth sometimes when we get really, really heated. Because it’s going to happen; it’s inevitable.
But most times if I can just take some deep breaths — you know, I was working with Vision54 a couple of years ago and they just said, you know, when you’re walking down the fairway, just start counting until you get to the golf ball. And then by that time hopefully you’ve kind of relaxed and kind of let it go.
You know, golf is a game of misses. You know, you just take them as they come and just try to get it back in play and kind of forget about it and move on and not think about the past or the future. But for me, we do a lot of singing as well. I feel like that helps a lot, mostly country songs, kind of whatever comes to our head. It’s very therapeutic.
The more strange stuff that goes on in my life, whether it be with my finance or my family — and the more that my caddie and I can talk, the quicker I can get over most things.
Has it ever been effective to play in anger? To be really annoyed about something. Has it ever motivated you, inspired you?
BRITTANY LINCICOME: Oh, yeah. I mean it can kind of go either way. Like the most times I get annoyed with slow play. You know, we played the pro-am and the group behind us is two holes behind, or my group is playing really slow and not keeping up and I find myself playing faster to keep up with the group in front of us. So it just depends.
Like we did it a couple of weeks ago in Ocala [Florida] where my group was so far behind and we were just going so slow. And I’d just go to the tee and say, “Okay, I’m going to go first.” And I would just go and not even ask the girls and just kind of do my own thing. And I feel like we were making birdies and playing pretty good that day.
But sometimes it backfires and you get rushed a little bit and you don’t play well. So it’s kind of a fine line of making sure you’re not rushing, but if you’re having fun and doing it, then it’s okay.
So have you ever had an instance where you were able to sustain that through the whole day?
BRITTANY LINCICOME: Yeah, in Ocala I thought we
were doing pretty well because the couple of holes, we were like, “I’ll go! I’ll go!” It was like an ongoing joke. Like she would get up there and go, “I’ll go!”
You weren’t really angry then. You were having fun?
BRITTANY LINCICOME: Well, I was angry because our group was so darn slow. But it turned out working out in my favor because I was going first every time off the tee.
Anything else you can think of about anger?
BRITTANY LINCICOME: No. We get angry all the time though. My caddie has to bring me back down to earth and “Get your head out of your butt,” and smacks me a few times or starts laughing at me. [Laughing]
For me, you just have to think about it as, “It’s golf. You’re not going to hit every shot perfect.” But you kind of — I myself like to get a little angry just a tad bit. Not like to a point where you’re throwing clubs or anything. You’re just trying to kick yourself and say like, “What was that?” And you could have done that; you coulda, woulda, shoulda, kind of thing.
I think if you can control your anger, you have an advantage…for sure.
And so how do you do that?
LIZETTE SALAS: Just by practice and you have to have this positive self talk to yourself. And because, you know there’s a lot of down time in golf, in competitive golf where we’re always waiting for our next shot. And so in that moment and in those minutes, you have to kind of mentally prepare yourself and not get so caught up on, “I should have done this, I should have done that,” and always get excited for the next shot.
The host of the show had this theory that sometimes when he gets really fired up and he gets really angry…he plays better. Has that ever happened for you?
LIZETTE SALAS: Ah, no. But if that works for him, good for him. But basically, I think the more you get angry, the worse you play. Or the worse things can happen during your round. I just like to stay as positive as I can.
My mom always told me, “Do not get angry.” She always told me, “If you’re going to get angry…” she’s going to do something. Like I think I threw a club one time and she said, “Never do that again, please.” So I’ve always known that as a kid; to not get angry, to enjoy the game.
Sometimes it can certainly be difficult. I think that I used to be…more angry on the golf course. And I think that, I don’t know if my age or my experience or everything kind of bottled together [pause] has made me accepting of bad shots. And I don’t mean that in the way of, you know, that I like to hit bad shots, but it’s just really an attitude of, you know, its the, “Oh woe is me, I suck,” versus the “Well this is going to be the best birdie of the day.” Because I’m going to, you know, punch it under the tree and make the putt.
It’s that grinding mentality of just really never giving up. And if you can approach a shot with that kind of mentality, or a bad shot even and the reaction to it, you can’t get angry…
Because there’s no room…
MORGAN PRESSEL: There’s no room for it. You just have to be out there and just think, well, the next shot’s going to be…it’s going to take a little more of my time and be a little more demanding, but, you know, maybe I’m going to double this hole, but I can birdie the next three. It’s always looking forward and not back. I mean, you can learn from the past certainly by whatever shot you hit and those sorts of things and what you felt in your golf swing. But really moving forward you have to think, “Okay, my next shot needs my full attention.”
So the host of the show put me up to this because he thinks that sometimes anger can be a motivating factor. Has that ever been true for you?
MORGAN PRESSEL: Ahhhh…yes it can be in short, short and few circumstances, but it doesn’t last. It’s not sustainable. Because it takes too much energy. I mean if you’re out here for five hours and you’re concentrating, your shots need that attention. You can’t waste it with anger because it can be distracting. And it can sap your anger like that.
I was unable to get an interview with Stacy coming off of her pro-am because she had to hustle back to her room to change for a Girls Golf media event in the media center. Girls Golf is the collaboration between the LPGA and the USGA to get more girls involved in the game. She said I could interview her as soon as that was done.
The media event began with the Executive Director talking about the tremendous increase in girls enrolling in the Girls Golf programs across the country. Before the Founders Cup which took on Girls Golf as its charity, there were just 5,000 girls in the program. Today there are 50,000.
The event then focused on five young girls on the stage who were in the program along with the LPGA’s Ambassadors to the program, Tiffany Joh, Stacy, Brittany and Lizette. Lexi is also an Ambassador but was not playing this week. And there were about fifteen girls seated on the floor in front of the stage with a front row seat. As the program was winding down, the girls on the floor got to ask a few questions and one of them basically asked my lead question in all of my interviews. And this is how Stacy answered it:
STACY LEWIS: I think it’s okay to be a little bit upset because if you’re not, then it doesn’t mean anything to you. So if you hit it in the water and you’re fine with that, then what are you doing out there.
So I think it’s okay to be a little bit upset but as long as it doesn’t affect the next one or the next hole; so whether some people like to count or sing or whatever it is. And just because you hit the last one bad doesn’t mean the next one’s going to be bad, right. You’ve hit the next one good probably more times than you haven’t. So just get mad but as long as it doesn’t affect the next one, it’s okay…
…and in a small round table interview session right after with a handful of media, I picked right up with Stacy where she left off:
Q. So I’m working on a piece on anger, and the little girl stole my thunder in there. You gave a good encapsulation of how you deal with it. What do you do in those instances where that doesn’t work?
STACY LEWIS: I mean, I feel like I’ve grown a lot in that department. It’s something that you just have to learn. It’s not something that — everybody wants a quick fix on how do you not get mad. I’m like, if you don’t — if you care about what you’re doing, you’re going to get mad about it. And so I don’t think getting mad is a bad thing. It’s whether it affects the next shot or the next hole.
But I think the more I play golf now and the older I get, things get in perspective a little bit more and one shot, one hole really doesn’t matter as much as it used to just because I realize I’m going to play some more golf.
Q. I’m doing this for a segment on NBC Sports radio and the host of the show feels like when he gets angry, it’s motivating to him; has that ever been true for you?
STACY LEWIS: Oh, for sure. I probably play my best golf when I’m a little angry. When I have a chip on my shoulder, I feel like I have something to prove. That’s what I seem to play my best. And people are different, though. Different personalities work different ways. I mean, Brittany Lincicome plays her best golf when she’s smiling and singing songs.
For me, that’s just not me. Some people don’t like that maybe I don’t smile as much as I should on the golf course but that’s just me and that’s my personality, and people who know me know that’s how I am.
Q. So can you sustain that anger through a whole round or are you in and out of it?
STACY LEWIS: No, you’re in and out of it. I mean, you know, if you’re angry the whole round, it’s a long day for your caddie, I’ll tell you that (laughs). And you definitely have days where you’re like that, but then you realize afterwards, you’re kind of like, gosh, why did I do that to myself? Because then you can look back on where you cost yourself shots. It’s just a learning curve and learning how to handle it.
Followup question from another media member: Do you ever go through a period where you thought, okay, I need to stop that; did you wrestle that way, and then decide, that doesn’t fit me and I’ve got to be me?
STACY LEWIS: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it’s one particular moment but you know with the media and with fans, people like to say things and maybe don’t like the way you handle stuff. And so, I mean, and my parents will say stuff to me, as well. There’s definitely times where I didn’t handle things the way I know I should or got too mad. But I realize, I can’t do it; I can’t make a bogey and be okay with it. It’s just not me. It’s not who I am.
That’s I think just one thing I’ve learned over the last couple years is just to be myself, and if you’re yourself out there, people are going to I think appreciate that more.
Q. You seem very even tempered when you’re out playing. Do you ever get angry when you play?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, I do get angry.
Q. How would we know?
LYDIA KO: Maybe if I slam my putter, I don’t know. But I think I’ve actually shown more anger the past couple months compared to the really cool, smiling-after-a-bogey Lydia. But even — I 3‑putted twice and I slammed my putter into my bag and my mom said she heard it a hundred yards away. I don’t know if she’s joking or not but she said she did. I think a little emotion is not bad, as long as it doesn’t control me and I’m not taking that — I’m not still thinking about the last hole.
Q. So how do you manage that anger?
LYDIA KO: How do I manage that anger? I don’t know, sometimes like if I make a really clumsy mistake, I laugh because it’s a dumb mistake. I don’t know, I’m a little strange, I do these opposite things. But no, I just try and take deep breaths and take one shot at a time. I think that’s where the caddie plays a role in there. He tries to keep you focused on the shots that are coming.
Q. There are some who have the theory that when they get fired up and angry, they play better. Has that ever been true for you?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, same again, [unintelligible] I did that and I made five birdies in a row, so maybe I should do that more often.
Off-Topic Bonus Question For Lydia
And finally, since she’s the No. 1 player in the world and we all want to know the secrets of the best, a bonus question for Lydia that reaches a year back in time. She was as beguiling and charming and endearing as always:
Q. Last year I chatted with you briefly on the range and I was asking you from a mastery point of view, how it is that you do what you do, because you’re so exceptional at this. And you said that you didn’t really know but you thought that it was that you just have fun. Do you have anything to add to that this year?
LYDIA KO: Yeah, still don’t know. I mean, there’s no secret or special recipe. To me if I was to write a book, it would be called have fun, yeah. And I always try to have fun, and when I have fun, that’s when I’m smiling and everything is relaxed. That’s when I play the best. I mean, you still need to be focused on that shot and at that moment, but I think when you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.
You know, we spend so much time preparing for each tournament. Sometimes it gets tiring and it ends up just doing it because it’s a routine. But that’s why I kind of put myself back and say, “Go have fun, enjoy,” and that’s what I’ve been doing.