Leaderboard Watching

“Karrie Webb in the interview room!” the LPGA Tour media staff loudly announced in the media center at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup that had just been concluded at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa.

Fortunately, I was standing out in the hall when I saw her coming and another writer and I pivoted from our conversation and followed her in ahead of everybody else.

She mounted the dais and took a seat in the player’s leather arm chair. She broke out in a quiet smile and said to the two of us early birds, “Well, I didn’t expect to end up here today.”

And I immediately shot back, “Well, I wrote this morning that you were probably out of it, so we were both wrong.” She smiled.

But as I had prognosticated, Webb’s success depended on poor Angela Stanford who couldn’t do anything right until it was too late. The birdie she made on 15 only offset one of the four bogeys she made over the first 14 holes. She fell from a 12-under start to a 9-under finish and that opened the door for the rest of the field. If she could have shot just 1-under, she would have won the tournament.

In the interview room Saturday night, finding herself with a surprising 3-shot lead, she was suddenly faced with how much a win would mean for her foundation and she was briefly overcome. Perhaps that was on her mind early in the round as well. It would explain a lot. You simply cannot let your mind stray to the future in professional golf.

Webb managed to shoot 6-under 66 with a bogey on 3 and seven birdies. Paula Creamer also shot 6-under, but she started one stroke back of Webb and that’s where she finished. She did, however, have the hollow victory of having made 8 birdies, one more than Webb.

The other semi-tragic figure in all of this was Brittany Lincicome. Starting three strokes back and paired with Stanford in the final twosome, she managed to get herself to 12-under while Stanford was heading south. But all day long she heard “birdie roars” from up ahead. She assumed that it was Christie Kerr lighting it up and that Kerr had mounted a big lead.

The reason she assumed that was because at the suggestion of her mental coaches, she was studiously avoiding looking at the leaderboard, “so I wouldn’t get overly nervous,” she said later. It was a big mistake. She missed the green short on 18, chipped on and did not realize that her putt was to tie Karrie Webb and get into a playoff. So I pursued this with her in the interview room.

Q. How long has it been your strategy not to look at the leaderboard?

Never look at a leaderboard.

Q. Never do?

Never do, yeah. And Nancy Lopez saw me on 18 and she said, “you need to look at the leaderboard.”

Q. So what’s your take on that?

I feel like I’m going to get really nervous. Obviously you go out there and if you’re close, I knew I needed to birdie every hole. That was my kind of mind frame. It wasn’t let’s lag this putt up there or anything like that.

You’re not trying to bogey holes. I’m trying to birdie every hole, so I don’t really feel like — I guess you could do it every way. But Nancy just said, you need to start looking at the leaderboard and your nerves will kind of build into that and you’ll learn, I guess, where you need to be.

Q. So are you going to do that?

Nancy is pretty darn good. (Laughs). I don’t think she would steer me wrong, so probably, yeah.

In November 2010 in, “Footsteps,” I wrote about Jesper Parnevik famously losing the 1994 British Open because he didn’t know where he stood and tried to hit a riskier shot on the 18th than he really needed. But Brittany probably wouldn’t know that; she was only 9 when that happened.

But in that same piece, I ended up siding with PGA Tour player Ben Crane on the matter when he said, “This year…my only thought has been to execute each shot with the same attention, day in and day out. In San Diego, I didn’t even know I’d won until Ryuji Imada congratulated me, because I’d made it a point not to look at the leaderboard during the round.”

And I think that’s right if you are secure in yourself and able to play in peace; it’s one less distraction to deal with.

But if you’re not looking at the leaderboard in order to mask fear, all you’re doing is masking fear, not dealing with it. So, I’m no dummy, I come down with Nancy in that instance. As the Euro Tour players invoke all the time on Twitter, “Legend!”

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