It was a banner day at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Not just because it was a glorious, windless Arizona day in the mid-70s, but because I was able to ask questions of four of the best players in the game.
Bubba Watson came into the media center with one of his pro-am amateurs, Mark Wahlberg.
Q. Bubba, what do you do to remain calm on the golf course? You’re a very mercurial guy. How do you keep a lid on that?
Well, [joking] I have only won 9 times in 300 tries, so not very good at it.
No, I mean, it’s nerve-wracking. Like today, it was just Wednesday. 16 is nerve-wracking, you know. You want to hit your best shot. You want to show off in front of the crowd. I was just glad I hit the green today.
No, it’s all about the easy things: deep breaths, focus on what got you here, focus on what got you at that moment in that point. But your head wanders. But that’s what you’re trying to do, just keys like that, trying to stay focused. You have practiced for so many years. It’s easy to pull the shot off, but then the actual shot comes up and makes it a lot tougher.
Jordan Spieth came in next. He looked eager, fresh and alert.
Q. When you first came out, you were playing with a very athletic, a swing you trusted, and I was wondering about your tinkering at the edges and what you have done to maintain that same trust in the new…
It’s no new/old swing. I have never changed or gone through a swing change. I did when I was 13. That’s it. If you compared my swing right now to 2014 or ’13, first/second year on tour, it will look very similar.
For me, I can dissect it to where I can see a lot of differences, but what I’m just trying to do is to eliminate kind of the contact that’s always been my miss, which is a thin heel and a little right, which is okay. If you miss stuff short right, as a right-handed golfer, you’ll be fine, as long as that’s your miss and you get a one-way miss.
I’m just trying to create a little more consistency just by getting a little around my body more. It’s stuff I’ve been trying to do since I was 15 years old that’s just not a natural movement in my body, but I can do it and start to train my mind that that’s the new normal. But it doesn’t change the characteristics of my swing very much at all. It’s just trying to get around my body a little more with a little more full shoulder turn and a little bit more patience in the swing. That allows me to have better contact.
Next, I found the answer Phil gave to another reporter so fascinating, I wanted to ask him a follow-up. But his schedule was tight and I had to follow him out into the hall to get a chance. He walked right into a young lady’s video interview while I patiently waited in his field of vision but outside of the camera shot. Here was the original question:
Q. More importantly, there has been this rash of obviously this shift in generation, if you will, 8 out of 11 winners this season are 29 are under. Your guys obviously had success early in this year. What do you attribute it to and sort of relate it — you’ve stayed remarkably healthy throughout the stretch and had success well into your 40s even as we sort of shift into this new generation. What do you attribute…
I think there are two things that have allowed me to elongate my career, if you will. One is I give a lot of credit to Sean Cochran and him staying up on new techniques, working with Dave Phillips and Greg Rose and guys at [Titleist Performance Institute] on having our workouts be designed to be built around golf and elongating careers, so building the stabilizing muscles rather than building up just the big muscles. So the support around my knees, around my spine, around my shoulders, all the areas that first commonly get injured, are much stronger. Those small muscles are much stronger.
Since we have been together now 14 years, that was our goal, to use working out as a way to elongate my career.
Secondly, the swing I have does not put a lot of pressure on my low back and spine and whatnot. It was built more around the books of Ernest Jones way back in the day, Bobby Jones, swinging the club, watching Sam Snead swing it, and using the leverage and motion to create speed rather than a violent, brutal force while isolating a couple of joints.
If you isolate any joint, knee or the hip, then you will increase the pressure on other parts of your body.
And so all areas of my body kind of move together with the golf swing so it doesn’t focus extra amount of pressure on one area.
So in the hallway, he looked right into my eyes as he withdrew from the video interview inviting my question.
I was interested in his comment about his body moving together. I took that to mean now but not before he started all of his emphasis on his strengthening of his stabilizing muscles.
So I asked him if that gave him a sort of “new” swing that caused him to have more things on his mind — knowing that top players try to eliminate thinking about their swing.
He was quick to point out that his basic swing is unchanged, he’s just stronger where he needs to be. And that the only swing enhancement he’s working on is getting more on plane. Realizing that I am too, I thanked him and took comfort that he’s still working on it too.
And lastly, on to Justin Thomas. He just won twice in Hawaii, shooting 59 in one round. Both wins were so impressive that it made me wonder if there was any sort of indelible increase in his sense of himself. The biggest part of enduring confidence is that inner knowing that you know what you’re doing, you can do it repeatedly and without much thought about it. You just play out of your essence instead of your mind.
Another reporter sort of got to this with his question:
Q. After the back-to-back wins, how much different do you expect the experience for you to be this week now that some of the more casual fans and everyone here will know who you are and you will be more of a draw kind of throughout the week?
I mean, it’s really cool to get paired with someone like Phil here, because you take someone like Phil or Rickie, they will be paired with the top guys in this event because they are some of the biggest draws.
Phil’s crowds anywhere but here will be pretty crazy. I was really excited when I saw that I got paired with him just because I feel like that’s, you know, it’s a compliment to myself from whatever, the Tour, whatever you want to call it.
It is going to be different. Like I said, it definitely beats the alternative of nobody knowing who I am. That means I have done some good stuff.
But just like any tournament, any opportunity, just going to try to embrace it and enjoy it. Hopefully give them a reason to cheer me on and not boo me.
So I went with drawing out another element of confidence: knowing that you belong:
Q. So you said that these two wins, amazing, by the way, didn’t really change your sense of yourself all that much. One of the big things about being out here is knowing that you belong, so if [you didn’t particularly get a boost out of] those two weeks, when did you know you belonged out here?
Probably right when I turned pro or right when I got my card. That’s the reason I did, and I don’t mean that in a cocky or arrogant way. I had an opportunity to turn pro after my freshman year, after wining Player of the Year.
Obviously my stock would be pretty high, but I wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel like I was mature enough. But after my sophomore year [at Alabama], I felt my game was ready. I had played in enough Tour events as an amateur. I had been around the hunt a couple of times to where I knew that I could compete. And when I turned pro, I mean, between my family and my agency that I went with, we wanted to know that when I was leaving school, when I was going to the professional ranks, that I was going to be ready to play against the best.
Obviously, because of Q-school, now that takes you to the Web, but even the exemptions I got, playing in Tour events, I felt like I did belong out there, that I could belong. Obviously I’m a lot more confident now than I was then, but still, I felt pretty early in my career, I felt like I could play out here with these guys.
It’s nice to be here, you know, here and four wins as opposed to none or whatever it was before.
And so the largest golf tournament in the world is upon us again Thursday morning. And the attendance records for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were all broken again.