It was another great day at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, short of glorious only because of the high, gauzy clouds that took the luster from the sunshine.
As I was gathering myself in the Media Center to map out my day, Brendan Steele was well into his second round, a little too late to go chase him down. Even though he’s won twice begining the 7th year of his career — 2011 Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and just this season, the 2017 Safeway Open at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California — he’s never really engendered that, “Oh, man! I gotta go see that guy play!” buzz. Maybe that stems from his upbringing in Idyllwild in the California mountains southwest of Palm Springs. They didn’t even have a golf course there.
So I didn’t really notice until an hour or so later that he was 10-under par and the co-leader of the tournament. But by then I was engaged in watching the final seven holes for Phil (-4), Justin Thomas (MC by 1) and Canadian, Adam Hadwin (-5). And then, after loitering in the Media Center for an hour or so, Louis Oosthuizen’s group fell right into my lap: they were two holes away from making the turn onto the back nine. So I sauntered out to the 10th tee and took in the pageantry as I awaited their arrival. There is no other tournament like this one: sprinkled among the record 169,004 for just this one day were tens of thousands very attractive people doing their best to look their best.
Oosthuizen has a mesmerizing swing that got him to 9-under and one stroke back with one to play. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him about it because he shaved his tee shot a little too close on 18, hit it in the water and made double. They moved Scoring from the trailers of previous years into the “none-but-the-anointed” clubhouse and he didn’t come out after his round. But it was worth it to watch those nine holes; that final tee shot was still glorious for all the splash it made in the end. The Czech judge gave it a 10.
Sooo, looking around for something beyond my impressionable day, I came across Brendan Steele’s transcript. I knew it was that something I was looking for when I realized that in his round he was able to realize the benefits of many of the rote prescriptions we’ve all heard ad infinitum but are infrequently successful in wrapping around our reality.
It began with repeating that which works, remaining positive and process and routine. And whatever you do, avoid thinking the word “don’t.”
Q. Thoughts on the weekend?
Just keep doing the same thing I have been doing the last few weeks. Been really positive. Hit a lot of good shots. It’s all about process and routine and stuff for me right now.
Swing is pretty good. Stroke is pretty good. If I don’t start to doubt it or if — what I call the “don’ts” out there: don’t hit it left, don’t hit it over there. If I get that stuff, I’m in trouble, but if I can block that stuff out I’m doing pretty well.
You have to continue to work at the margins of your weaknesses and make your game and yourself stronger. But as important, you have to play with courage. You can’t let circumstances rob you of your certainty that you can play the game.
Q. Go back to the start of this wraparound season with the victory. You sort of continued it. How has your game and mindset changed when you started exactly where you want to be, in the winner’s circle?
Yeah, we worked really hard over the last few years on adding pieces to the game, making kind of some of the weaknesses a bit stronger, and the win was definitely validation. Then you know you’re doing all the right things and just try to have good attitude and good process.
You have to play with some courage out there, too. If you want to win tournaments and play well, you have to hit great shots and not be worried about the consequences if you don’t.
Just trying to battle with that stuff every day, and it’s coming out pretty good right now.
Everyone knows that confidence is integral to success in the game. But where does confidence come from? It comes, first, from “being” confident. When you “be” confident, you can ultimately “become” confident. And once you’ve pulled long enough on that unraveling insecurity of your ego, you get there, often suddenly. And once you begin to realize success, keep pulling.
Q. Your confidence? You have already won this season, and you have a head start on a lot of other things and I’m sure your goals for the rest of this year.
Yeah, definitely changed the goals. We didn’t want to get complacent after the win. It’s easy to sit back, think about what you’ve accomplished and be really happy with it.
But I think the best players in the world really push forward and use that as a spring board. We really wanted to do that and kind of capitalize on the confidence and good play and keep trying to push forward and get more and more good results and wins, hopefully.
In the end, it’s all about playing freely so you can begin to realize the ultimate expression of yourself as a golfer. How do you do that? Stop thinking about stuff.
Q. I saw you and your coach on the range on Wednesday. Looked like you were locked in and getting the pre-shot routine and those things down. Is that what it’s about right now, making sure the swing is all good, it’s just about pre-shot routine and those kind of little things?
Yeah. I’m swinging pretty good over the last few weeks, really hit a lot of good shots. Usually the shots I don’t hit well are more to do with our process and how I get into the shot, whether I’m worried about whether it’s the right club or worried about the fact I blocked the last drive or I hit it left here yesterday, that kind of stuff. If I get freed up, the mechanics are pretty good and I hit a lot of good shots.
And finally, we all know and keep forgetting that age-old prescription, “Don’t think about what you don’t want. Think about what you do want.”
Q. I know you’re a seasoned professional, but is this the one event you may get a little nervous before arriving to just because of the magnitude of all of it?
Yeah, I mean, I’m nervous all the time (smiling). I just have that kind of like anxious, like, ready-to-go feeling all the time.
But definitely as you get around (the reachable par-5) 15, (and iconic par-3) 16, there is a lot happening there and you don’t really want to make mistakes, which is a bad mindset.
The good mindset is, what do I want? What kind of shot do I want to hit here? Try to get that good visual going. There is always a little bit of nervous energy, for sure.
When I realized that this short, on-point transcript was a treasure trove of the actualization of the best we know about playing at the highest levels of the game, I couldn’t wait to share it with you.
And managed to eclipse all of the attractive people I saw today as the best thing of the day. If you’re devoutly interested in golf mastery that is.