J.B. Holmes: Biggest difference for him this season? The mental side

J.B. Holmes stormed from six back to catch 54-hole leader Jordan Spieth to win the Shell Houston Open. He began his day with five straight birdies on his way to an 8-under 64 that included one bogey. It was enough to get into a playoff with Spieth and 2008 Champion, Johnson Wagner. Spieth was eliminated on the first playoff hole and Wagner on the second.

It was Holmes fourth Tour victory which included the Wells Fargo in Charlotte (2014) and the Waste Management in Phoenix twice (2006, 2008).

Holmes just seems to work his way around the golf course in this sort of nonplussed manner that belies his sloppy driving statistics. He was 71st in fairways hit for the week going 25 for 56. But he was 1st in driving distance which put him downrange and presumably more able to hit the greens where he finished T10, 57 for 72. 11th in Strokes Gained Putting was the coup de grâce. 

But he thinks that the biggest difference for him this season is not his stats, but rather his well-practiced mental skills:

Just mentally.  I feel like I’ve been able to control it better, kind of let go a little bit and not get in my way as much.

Just focus on one shot at time.  I know you say that, but really it’s that simple and that difficult. Just trying to stay present. Just mainly do that. The things I can control.

  1. I can go out everyday and have fun.
  2. I can do my routines properly.
  3. And I can try to stay present the best I can.

And those are my three goals every day.  Whatever the score it, the score is.  But if I do those three things, I consider it a successful day.

If you’ve watched Holmes play in any detail, you’ll notice that as part of his pre-shot routine, he sometimes closes his eyes while he’s behind the ball before he addresses it. Ever wonder what that’s about? I always thought he was visualizing the shot. He explains:

I’m trying to take a deep breath and stay in the moment, not let your mind race.  Just sometimes say a little prayer.  Just trying to relax.

The lesson for us here is that even the best players in the world get nervous even though they rarely look flighty or figgity. With their substantial arsenals compared to most players, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we are all human…which makes it alright for us to be nervous too.

And again, he took a long time to hit his approach shots in the playoff for the same reason:

No.  Your mind wants to race a little bit more there.  My mind wasn’t quiet.  I backed off on that one.  Again, just trying to stay present and just do my routine.

After his day was done, he acknowledged that the win felt pretty good and that while it was most certainly his intention when he teed it up on Thursday, he didn’t think about that after play began:

I mean, it’s a great feeling, you know.  Every time we tee it up, that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to win.  Like I said, I didn’t really focus on the results at any point in the round.  I was just trying to do the best I could do each hole, and at the end of the round, then you add it up.

I didn’t tee off expecting to win today, but, you know, it’s a nice surprise (laughter).

Surely when he’d made 9 birdies through 12 holes he started thinking about shooting 59, right?

No.  Again, I was just trying to play one hole at a time.  Shoot 59, great.  I didn’t need 59.  I just wanted to have enough to win.

On the par-3 16th he made his only bogey because a sprinkler head kicked his bunker shot off line:

Just little indecisive maybe about the club there and just kind of came out of it and then it plugged in the bunker.  Hit a really good shot, I think it would have been really close, but it hit the sprinkler head and kicked right.  Hit a good putt and made bogey.

Holmes final mastery lesson for us is about how to deal with these “rub of the green” instances that could drive us crazy if we let it:

Well, I mean, you can look at it either way.  On I think 12, 13, I hit it left and hit a cart and stopped [before bounding into deep vegetation].  It’s just golf.  Sometimes you’re going to get some good bounces, sometimes you’re going to get bad bounces.

You got to have a little bit of luck.  You got to play well and have a little bit of luck out here.  It’s golf.  It’s — some weird things can happen.  You just try to go to the next shot and do the best you can.  Like I said, trying to control the stuff I can control.  I can’t control that.  I hit a good shot, hit a sprinkler head.  What can I do about that?

We all know these things intellectually, it’s bringing that understanding to bear when an inanimate object like a sprinkler head sends our ball on an unplanned excursion. The sprinkler doesn’t have a will of its own. It’s a sprinkler head.

Although I must admit that I just had some fun with the idea that they do. When Titleist forced me to add a logo to the balls in order to get their “Buy 3 dozen, Get one free” promotion, rather than going with my initials or name, I emblazoned the balls with, “Yes Master?”

With that kind of great relationship with my ball, I should never hit one into the desert again.

Oh, wait…

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