Friday at the AT&T Byron Nelson was certainly a day that could test just how centered a player could remain. First of all, with an overnight deluge of four and a half inches, the TPC Four Seasons Resort was slammed. They needed a 3-hour delay just to get the course ready, something many thought wouldn’t be possible.
But the players ended up raving about what the greens crew had to do to get the place playable, and some were amazed at how playable it was; it wasn’t just on the margin. Oh, they did have to play preferred lies and turn the par-4 14th into a 105-yard par-3 because that fairway was completely unplayable. They actually had to lay down a plywood “bridge” to ferry the players in carts from the 13th green to the new temporary tee. Those are the kinds of way-outside-the-box things that can cause a player to come up out of his sense of quietude. But it didn’t seem to bother Gary Woodland; he made a hole-in-one.
Just another day. The weather when we’re playing it’s been nice. It’s when we’re not playing. The golf course is wet. It is harder to walk than it is to play. You’re dodging puddles the whole time. Once you get to the fairways it’s pretty good.
And Jordan Spieth commented after his round that he hoped to end up 6 or 7 back, but his 5-under 64 (the course was modified to a par 69) got him to just 3 shots back. But with the delay, he went back home for a nap. You would think that it would have been a simple thing, but a little drama ensued on his way back:
Today I was actually already here and eaten breakfast and drove back home, went back to sleep for a couple hours and then drove back and from here to my house I passed where you saw on the news that flooding right around where the old Texas Stadium was and took a little extra time getting back. I was a little short on time but, all in all, yeah, I don’t know what to attribute it to but little extra sleep didn’t hurt this morning.
But, safe and sound back at the course, he put together a couple of elements that allowed him to play the way he did. We’ve heard these things before, but they bear repeating:
One of the biggest challenges is trying to stay patient. You recognize that in these soft conditions there’s a lot of birdies that are being had by anybody.
The hardest part is sit back and let it come to you. I think that’s what I struggled with the first 27 holes or so. I got off 17, I was walking down 18 with Michael saying, “I’m being a little negative, my expectations were maybe set a little bit high right now for how I play on this course and this tournament. You know, let’s try and lower them, hit the shots we need to hit.” And from there on I think we made 6 birdies coming in on the last 10 holes.
I was able to fire at more pins, not really worry about anybody else. Really actually helped because I didn’t know what score I was at when it’s a par 4, 4 par, par 3, don’t really know what it’s at.
It could have been tricky if it was cut line, not really know where you stand. But, from my position, it actually I think helped me.
There was one surprising performance from PGA Tour rookie, Jon Curran. He tied the low round of the day, a 6-under, 63 to tie for the lead with Jimmy Walker and Steven Bowditch at 9-under. His T2 in a five-man playoff at the Puerto Rico Open was his proof-of-concept outing and it’s had a positive impact on him:
Yeah. I think I feel comfortable. Every week I learn something different and every week I kind of feel like I’m getting a little bit more comfortable with the player that I am and with myself and working a lot with a sports psychologist, Greg Cartin the past two, three years.
We’ve worked really hard on that, try to be comfortable and try to be calm and confident when I’m out there. There’s definitely some low spots throughout the year. You miss a couple cuts by a shot or two, really feel like I haven’t played well. You got to stay patient and calm and confident. That’s what I’m trying to do right now.
And there was an element of his putting routine that he chose to deal with too:
Just kind of reading the putts a little bit differently, getting a little bit more of a quicker pace to the read instead of reading it, overanalyzing it, getting too dialed into a certain line, getting too caught up with it.
Just kind of loosened me up a little bit.
God knows we all have to loosen up a little bit. But I was having the exact opposite conversation Thursday morning on my radio segment (“For The Love of The Game,” on NBC Sports Radio, AM 1060 in Phoenix).
Uncle Buck, Shot Dog and I were having this conversation about the NCAA Women’s Championship and how Mariah Stackhouse had made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win the hole and go to extra holes. What was significant was that she made the putt with her eyes closed.
So I was talking about how we taught that technique in the boutique golf school I co-founded, The School For Extraordinary Golf. We used it as a training exercise to both free up people’s strokes and demonstrate the magic machine the human body is.
And that led into a conversation about the putting pre-shot routine. And I was making the point that while the routine was designed to lead you right into your beautiful flowing stroke through the ball, I sometimes felt like the routine rushed me, that I found myself over the ball on time but unready. So I always took a few beats more to make sure that I was deeply “in the putt” before I pulled the trigger, that my right brain was “seeing” the dynamics of the putt. And I’m a pretty good putter.
Which is the opposite of what Curran was saying. Proving, once again, that golf is a game of many paths. That’s why we love it so.