Michael Allen got off to a great start in Saturday’s third round of the Charles Schwab Cup. He was 4-under through 8 on the Cochise course at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. At some point in there, he extended his opening two-shot lead to six. He bogeyed 9 and then got it back on 11. Real commercial golf. And somewhere in there, Lanny Watkins observed that Allen was beginning to show the nerves of having never quite been in that position before.
It didn’t look like that to me. To me, it just looked like the ups and downs of golf; you’re pretty much always going to make a bogey or two.
So when Allen suddenly started looking like it was nerves with a double on 12, a bogey on the short par-3 13th and the par-5 15th — the latter with an incredible topped shot that dribbled into the water hazard — it began to look like he was, indeed, succumbing to the pressure.
When he finally got off with a salving birdie on 17 and a one-shot lead on 18, I decided to explore how he thought he was feeling without mentioning Watkins’ name. I didn’t want him to feel that he had to defend himself. I wanted his unfettered sense of what was happening in the moment. But I wasn’t the only one who had that idea: my questions begin with the third one about his tee shot into the desert on 12.
Q. I hate to bring this up but what happened on the second shot on the par 5 where you tapped it into the lake?
MICHAEL ALLEN: [Smiling] I guess I needed it teed up a little better, I don’t know, a little better lie. I was just kind of going through a little mental crisis right then. Not a mental crisis, I was a little out of sorts and probably just didn’t go through the routine quite properly. I don’t know because it was a perfect number. My caddie said I swung out of my shoes at it so I don’t really know what happened to be honest with you, but I guess it happens once in a while in golf.
Q. Do you lose an edge when you find yourself with a six-shot lead? I mean does that have anything to do with it, you maybe let up a little?
MICHAEL ALLEN: You know, not really because I really just — this whole week I’ve just really tried to play to put myself in position on Sunday. To be honest, I didn’t even look at the scoreboard. I knew I was playing with a guy who was second and he was playing decent. I was beating him pretty good, so I knew I was in great position. I didn’t really know what my lead was. It probably would have been a good idea to look at a board at that point, but I was just trying to do what I’ve been doing all week which is just try and hit good shots, make birdies and pars. I don’t think my strategy would have changed any.
When you look back on it, could I have done something maybe a little different? Really if I just — I got on that tee early because the other guys took the cart and I stood there and I should have probably just kind of worked a little bit more, stayed in focus. I just think I let up for a shot there and it kind of, it really got me.
Is that what happened carrying on? Who really knows. I felt like I overcame it alright and I didn’t feel like oh, boy, I’m uptight and not doing well, whatever. I kind of just tried to shrug it off and kind of keep moving forward. I knew I was still leading by a bit. I don’t know what happened there. I hit a great shot on the par 4 after that. The par 3, it’s always an awkward little shot down that hill. You hit the ball way up in the air, how much is the wind going to hit it, so it’s up in the air a lot. Not to be a pun, but…
Q. So the tee shot on 12, was that unsettling at all when you knocked that into the desert?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yeah, it is certainly a little unsettling because the last few days I’ve hit what I thought were good shots just on the left side of the house. I tried to move it a little right even though we were forward and today was into the wind instead of downwind, so maybe that was my fault a little bit in my thinking. Again, that was the only shot. I probably hardly missed the fairway with with my driver all week; maybe a couple on 10 or something and those were all good shots.
It was a little unsettling, to be honest, but I didn’t really think like everything had fallen apart by any means. It was just kind of a bad swing. I didn’t even think it was that bad a swing coming off but it just kept going right. I think I lined up poorly. A few things as far as pre-shot stuff I didn’t really go through properly.
Q. So it didn’t start anything in terms of what happened the rest of the back nine?
MICHAEL ALLEN: You know, I don’t think so. In my mind I don’t take it that way. Obviously people looking at it might kind of think something different, look at me like maybe I look different, but in my mind I felt like I was still in control and just trying to do what I was doing. I was just trying to kind of stay in the moment and keep hitting good shots.
Q. So how were you able to stay in the moment and keep hitting good shots after that and then after missing the green on 13?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yeah. Well, it’s always a challenge and it’s one of the things that’s great about what I get to do; I get to challenge myself every day physically and mostly emotionally. That’s what’s fun about tomorrow. But I just kind of know I’m playing really well so I haven’t hit many bad shots all week. I’ve hit the ball where I’m trying to, I’ve done an awful lot of good things, which I guess is why I’m still leading after a bad stretch like that.
Having said that, that’s what you try and do. I always felt comfortable there. Tomorrow I’ll probably be a lot worse if I did that and let the thing go. I know I’ve still got another day tomorrow. That was the kind of challenge. I’m a little more mature in some ways and haven’t quite matured in others.
Q. So you’re okay?
MICHAEL ALLEN: You know, I feel good. I felt like I just lost my swing a little bit there and maybe really my focus more than my swing. Maybe I let up that little bit, things were going awfully well, so…
Q. And you still lead by one.
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yeah, yeah, exactly [with another big smile on his face].
Bill – Good blog on Michael Allen and his dealing with the emotions of the moment. I’m sending this after the end of the final round, so I have the benefit of seeing what happened with his flubbed pitches on 17 and 18. Makes one ask “what’s the first thing to go when the nerves get active — the big hard shots or the little soft ones.”