Rory McIlroy broke his own course record at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship shooting an 11-under 61. That is, 11 birdies and no bogeys. Pretty phenomenal on a course that the players universally describe as hard or difficult.
Part of that 61 is attributable to hitting the shots in your mind to the places your eyes are looking. But the other part of it is having matriculated through the mental process necessary to get to the point that you allow yourself that performance. Asked the difference between where he is now and where he was five years ago, he minced no words:
Mentally. You know, I said this yesterday, mentally I’m so much better. I’m better at staying patient, not being afraid to go low, not really — you know, my mindset or my demeanor doesn’t change no matter what situation I’m in in a tournament or on the golf course. I think that’s the big difference.
It’s that even temperament that allows you to keep yourself in the game and not in your head. And it all comes from experience:
Five years of experience, five years of being out here, competing, winning Majors, losing Majors, you know, that’s the thing that really is the difference between who I am now and who I was five years ago.
And from patience, it’s not a far distance to fall into the grace of being in the zone. He offered up his description of what it’s like to be in the zone:
Yeah. I mean it’s hard to explain, how to describe. Every shot you look at you visualize it perfectly and you — it’s all a mental thing. It’s all — you’re picturing good shots, you’re visualizing the lines on putts and you’re not getting in your own way.
And here’s his thoughts on allowing himself to play freely:
You’re just letting it happen and that’s what I said about flow. I feel like there’s a great flow to this golf course and it allows you to sort of get out of your own way. I’ve got great memories here and, you know, I feel like I think I probably birdied every hole on this golf course so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do it again, but it’s a cool feeling.
And again, it comes down to having enough experience to recognize it when it’s happening and then allow it to just keep going:
You never quite know when you’re going to get into it or get into the zone or — but when it happens, you have to realize it and then that’s when you just go with it, and I’m lucky enough that I’ve been in that frame of mind quite a bit so, you know, I know when it’s happening and I sort of know how to handle it.
But there’s nothing ironclad about the results you might expect from this mellow trance. You may be piloting your way through the ethereal strains of the game, but in the meantime somebody else is killing it:
Last year at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, I’m sort of going along and happy with even, 1-under, something like that, and then Kaymer goes out and shoots 10-under for the first two days. Sometimes your patience isn’t rewarded just because someone gets hot and someone sort of separates themselves from the field.
Apart from that, I looked at the scores today in the morning and saw that there were some low ones out there. Good friend of mine Scott Pinckney shot 66. Stewart Cink was maybe 6-under through 10. Justin Thomas was, I guess, going, 4-under through 5. I knew there were scores out there to be had. And I realized that early and just, you know, got a little bit more aggressive and it paid off.
But he actually got more aggressive than just “a little bit more:”
I just aimed at the flags today. It’s simple as that. I was sort of aiming at a lot of middles of greens and trying to work the ball [out] to the hole. I was taking dead aim a little bit more today.
Yeah. Just again, it’s one of those days where you’re visualizing the line and you’re getting it right all the time and you’ve got good speed and everything fell in. It was nice.
And then of course, it just come down to holing putts at the right time. But even then, that’s just another facet of the mental side of the game: holding good memories close:
I didn’t feel like I putted all that well at the Match Play but I holed putts at the right times. I guess that’s more just to do with the mental side of it and drawing on some memories from previous matches or situations where you’ve been in a position and you just need to hole it.
I think having those positive, positive memories and reinforcement always helps. But, yeah, I didn’t feel like I putted particularly well at the Match Play but I just — I did enough, did enough to get by each match…
…and win. That’s pretty much the same message in yesterday’s post about Patrick Rodgers where he said he finally realized that you can still get it around without your best stuff.
Taking that simple truism to heart can provide a lot of freedom from trying to get it all perfect.