Because of frost delays earlier in the week, the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open spilled over into Monday.
Tommy Gainey had a one-stroke lead most of Sunday until he bogeyed 11 and 12 (both flukes) and Mark Wilson birdied 12. They got as far as the 13th green before darkness left Wilson with an 18-foot birdie putt and Gainey slightly inside of him.
At nine o’clock, the appointed re-start, the Tour official on the mogul blew his air horn, startling the 50 people around the green, and kicking the players into motion. It was a little cool in the early morning sun, but I was still surprised that, with the gates open to the public for free, the leaders didn’t garner more attention. It was pretty clear that the marquee group of Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler on the 14th tee had a lot to do with that. Which was perfect for me because they all pretty much stuck with them until the 17th hole.
By then, Gainey had birdied the 16th hole to the roar of the accumulated crowd there looking more for the experience of sitting in the stadium seating surrounding the green than any kind of devotion to the players.
That gave Gainey the honor on the drivable par 4, 17th which was strung pretty much tee-to-green with the biggest aggregated crowd I saw all week. Where did all these people come from?
Gainey knew he needed to birdie to have any chance to win, so he hit his driver really solidly towards the back left pin, pulled it just a bit, it ran along the edge of the green until it bounded down the bank into the water. But he had to be thinking that after his drop, he could still chip it in for birdie; he was only 41 feet away.
But he wasn’t thinking about chipping it in, he said later. He was worried that the ball, perched on the tightly-mown bank after he was able to place it, might roll back in the water. So he wasn’t able to gather himself and focus on the little chip shot. He rushed it, hit it poorly, it got to the top of the bank and rolled back into the water anyway. Triple bogey and game over for Gainey.
Meanwhile, Wilson was trundling along playing par golf that turned out to be enough. Dark horse, Jason Dufner, birdied 16 and 17 to get himself into a two-hole playoff with Wilson, but Wilson grabbed the win with a 9-foot birdie.
In their interviews later, Gainey was angry at himself for having his attention on the wrong thing on the chip shot and Dufner was sanguine about getting so close but losing to a good birdie putt. He saw it as all part of the long process of getting better. I told Gainey, after one interviewer outside the scoring trailer seemed to second guess him, that he’d made the right play with the driver on 17, it was a good shot that just didn’t work out. He seemed to appreciate someone vindicating his decision and it looked like his face softened a little.
Two things came out of Wilson’s interview that I found quite interesting. The first was just how helpful his faith in God was:
I was a little more nervous today than I was expecting. I didn’t sleep great last night. It was probably the excitement with the Super Bowl and the uncertainty of today, and I just kept trying to rely on God to give me the peace that I needed to get through it. I prayed out there a lot.
It’s that peace I’ve been writing about in all these posts as the foundation underneath ego, the tempestuous and frequently unreliable ego. When you can just be in the moment and feel that you have the underpinning support of your spiritual essence, you have freedom from fear. Freedom from fear produces good golf.
He also talked about how Dr. Bob Rotella, the eminent sports psychologist helped him:
Obviously I’ve always been a searcher in terms of my technique and my golf swing, try something here and there, it might work for a little bit, even switching during the rounds. When I saw Dr. Rotella, I said okay, do I spend a few months and just try to ingrain a new habit in the swing, trying to get my club a little more on plane, certain little things I’d like to change, or do I just go with it and trust it and try to just do the same thing every day. And he says the sooner you decide to just trust what you’ve got, the quicker you’re going to become a better player. And I skated right through Q-School and then I won three months later at the Honda [in Florida], my first win in 2007.
And that was the mentality that I’ve taken ever since. I stray from that every once in a while, but for some reason at the end of last year, which was one of my worst years in recent history, it just popped back into my head, ‘Hey, I’ve got to just trust what I’m doing and just play my own game,’ not try to—not put my swing on camera every afternoon after the rounds and try to make it perfect, because I looked around and I see everyone has got a different swing. And even some of the best swings on Tour, if they can’t dial in the yardage it’s not going to help them. So just focus more on myself, that’s what Bob really helped me with.
Obviously, you have to have some level of expertise before you can do that, but perhaps not as much as most people think. I have been afflicted with the drive to get better by working through the technical aspects of my swing with world-class coaches, including Jim Flick. My problem, as with most people, was that I never stopped tinkering. To paraphrase Wilson, how can you trust things so new that you don’t fully “know” them yet? Tommy Gainey’s swing is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t have that problem: he trusts what he’s doing to get the ball to go where he intends. And that’s enough.
After I attended the interviews and finished the rough draft of this post an hour and a half later, as I walked through the deserted grounds to the exit, the clattering and clanging of breaking down all of the stands and sky boxes had begun. In relatively short order, the only thing left will be our memories.