This Is Mastery

I was really interested in following Gerina Piller this morning at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. You may remember her as Gerina Mendoza from the Golf Channel’s, Big Break Prince Edward Island. I know I did because, without taking anything away from the accomplishments of the other female contestants, she was the class of the field. In the co-ed challenges, she was so long off the tee that she continually put pressure on the male contestants.

But as is so often the way with do-or-die reality television, she was suddenly eliminated. You make the shot or you go home.

She said she learned a lot from the experience. “When you have to be prepared to hit a shot on demand, with all the cameras, crew and other players, you learn quickly how to adjust. Plus, I was very shy before all of that and I had to learn how to look into a camera and speak. Sometimes we had two hours of interviews at night.”

This morning she was put to the test again. While the forecast was for 81 degrees, when I pulled into the parking lot at 6:45, the car said 44 and her tee time was just thirty minutes away.  “It was so cold this morning, I couldn’t really “feel” my hands. I felt sluggish and out of rhythm.” She fumbled her way down the first hole and missed a one-foot putt for par.

I caught her at her second shot on the par 5 2nd hole. It was too cold to get to the green in two, but all she had left was a wedge to a pin just seven on the front. After brief deliberation with her caddie over which wedge to hit, she missed the green short and made another bogey. Having started the day at even par, she was now 2-over after just two holes.

I met her husband, Martin Piller, on the 4th tee. And then she bogeyed the next two holes. Now 4-over. Martin was unconcerned, “She’ll be fine. She’ll get going and tear up the back.” He has some moral authority in the matter: he’s a newly minted PGA Tour player having earned his card by finishing 8th on last year’s Nationwide Tour.

The reason that she’s the subject of this post, of course, is because she did tear it up. She birdied the first three holes, made a twelve-footer to save par on 13, birdied 14 and then 17. And she just missed two more. So, from 4-over and out of the tournament to 1-under and right in the middle of it.

So I asked her how she did it. Going back to the Big Break, she said that she really learned the meaning of staying in the moment there, the old bromides of taking it one shot at a time and staying in the present.

So I said, yes, but how do you do that? She talked about distracting herself by, for example, singing a song to herself. Anything to stop her mind from replaying the past (you can’t change the bogeys you’ve made) or looking forward to all the birdie chances coming up (you can’t make them until you get there; you have to stay focused on this hole, this shot).

I told her that Martin was completely unconcerned the whole round. She broke into a radiant smile at the mention of his name and said, “Oh, yeah. He’s like that.”

So I asked her what her mindset was finding herself at four over? She said that she wasn’t particularly paying attention to that, she was paying attention to the fact that she was finally beginning to feel her hands, her arms, the rest of her body. It never helps to start a round bundled up with a top and rain pants. The top came off on the 3rd and the pants a couple of holes later (I can’t be too sure of when, Martin and I were engaged in a running spiritual conversation between shots).

But whenever that was, finally freed of those constraints, her body came alive. And that’s when her body matched up with the talent she knew was in there somewhere.

The birdie on 10 followed soon after. And that was the one that turned the tide for her. It calmed her because she knew that that was what was supposed to be happening. I missed that one, rejoining her group just in time to see her roll in the one on 11. Watching her, I couldn’t help thinking, “Okay, you got two back, but however are you going to get two more! OMG, freak out!” She said that that was the way it used to be for her too and that Martin had been a big help with that.

How? Both she and Martin are very religious. Martin was talking about how when Gerina goes out on Tour with him, all his Tour buddies want to talk to her instead of him. And I teased him that they’re probably trying to figure out what she sees in him. Gerina’s mother was standing next to us and she immediately said, “I’ll tell you what she sees in him. She sees God in him.”

And for Gerina, that’s the final piece of mastery. She believes that all that happens in her life is preordained by God down to the triviality of how close she gets to hit her shots and whether she makes the putt or not. So for her, there is peace in the acceptance of God’s plans for her. She still has to do the work of staying in the present and hitting the best shots that she can, but the rest is in God’s hands. And she was as radiant when she told me this as she was at the mention of Martin’s name.

And I found it telling that in the third and fourth posts of her rookie blog that she wrote for the LPGA Tour website, she closed by signing her name and then offering a biblical reference, Joshua 1:9. And this is what that verse says:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

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