George McNeill: Playing with the swing that shows up

The difference between the Tour players and the rest of us is that they are masters of adjusting.

George McNeill finished the first round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial with a 5-under 65 and T5 with Ian Poulter. And they were one shot back of the four leaders: Boo Weekley, Ryo Ishikawa, Kevin Na and hometown boy, Jordan Spieth. The significance of this was that he hasn’t been playing well of late, but he accepted what he had to work with and “got it around.”

McNeil’s first three holes were somewhat of a surprise to him; he birdied all three:  

I’ve been struggling the last couple weeks with my swing.  I’ve been playing okay but struggling a little bit with my swing, so to get off to that start gave me a little bit of confidence to move forward throughout the day.

The point of this post is that he got there by working with the swing he had, not the one he once had:

I managed my game today.  Obviously the first three holes helped, and then on 4 and 5, I just hit shots in the fat part of the greens.  The pins were tucked in corners.  I didn’t really go at a lot of pins that I didn’t feel comfortable with, and hitting long irons into those holes is not something you want to aim at.

And I did that throughout the day.  I didn’t really try and aim at anything that I didn’t feel comfortable with.  I would accept a 30‑ or 40‑footer on some holes, and that’s what I did.  I hit a close one on 8 for birdie, about a foot and a half or two feet, and then hit a close one on 16, about a foot and a half or two feet for birdie.

Those were the only other birdies I made, but I had a few good saves in there, as well, and again, just kind of rode some momentum from the first three.

Because his history is to get off to slow starts in the first round even absent swing issues, this round was a pleasant surprise for that reason too:

I haven’t done this too often, so it helps.  Again, I’m not real comfortable with what I’m doing with my swing right at this moment.  I’m going to go work on it a little bit later today and try and get more comfortable.  Hopefully it’ll — I mean, if this is the worst round I have all week, I think I’ll be sitting here and talking to y’all on Sunday.

But I’m not a fast starter.  I typically play halfway decent in the middle rounds and then the beginning and the end. I don’t know if it’s just being tired or just being new or trying to look at the golf course and figure out my strategy on Thursday.

I mean, I play practice rounds, I play pro‑am, but just — a tournament round is a lot different than a Tuesday or a Wednesday.  Just, again, trying to find strategies, and maybe that’s why.  I really don’t know.  I can’t pinpoint it.  If I knew why, obviously I’d try and fix it.

Maybe I did today and just was playing a little safer on some holes and accepting par, or even on 9 I had to pitch out.  I hit it in the right trees on 9.  I had to pitch out and got up‑and‑down from 80 yards for par. Just accepting — in my mind I had already given myself a bogey, and I made about a 12‑ or 15‑footer.  And I thought, I’ll accept that, and a lot of people are going to make bogeys on 9, and I’ll move on. But I happened to make the par, and that was a lot of momentum just carrying forward.

And he can’t quite put his finger on what the problem is just yet. Keep in mind, please, that this is a player who’s won twice and had his best year in 2014 hauling home some $2.0 million:

I’m just not comfortable with it.  There’s some things I’ve worked on for the last four or five months and weeks.  At The Players this year was probably the most comfortable I’ve felt with my swing.  I had four pretty solid rounds overall.  That’s a very difficult golf course.

But reality intruded again once he got to Fort Worth:

Last week I didn’t feel real comfortable the first three days, and then Sunday I felt really good, and I hit a lot of shots exactly where I was looking, and then I took Tuesday off here and didn’t really do much, and then yesterday I hit it sideways in the pro‑am.  I’m going, great, here we go again.

So it was quite a surprise for me to play or score as well as I did today.  I’ll take it, and again, hopefully it’s the worst score I shoot all week.  But I know there’s things I need to work on, and I know what I’m working on, it’s just a matter of getting my body to accept it.

So in the meantime, you play with the swing you have, making conservative decisions all along the way:

Today I had a lot of lefts, I had a lot of rights, I had a lot of lows, highs.  It was all over.  I hit a lot of pulls actually was my shot today.  I’d get on a hole and the pin was cut left, I’d just aim at the right edge of the green and pull it to the pin.

It’s not what I normally do.  I normally aim at the pin and cut it away from it in the fat part of the green if the pin is left. I was just not comfortable.

And then some of the right pins, I said, well, I don’t know how far right to aim to pull it back to the pin, so I would aim left and just hit a push cut, and then I’d overcut it.

Again, I wasn’t real comfortable with what I was doing, but I managed to miss in the correct spots in order to give myself the best opportunity to get up‑and‑down, which I did.

This might be the best discussion of a limp-along round because of all the detail he provided about what he had to do to get at the left and right pins. And especially the right pins because he didn’t dare aim way right of the green and then his body have an epiphany and accidentally hit one straight.

Even on a day when he felt handcuffed, he shoots 65.

And that’s why he has his name on his bag.

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