A Star Is Born

I’ll have a note in a minute about Martin Laird’s victory yesterday, but a remarkable thing happened on the LPGA Tour yesterday. The underdog won. The big underdog won.

German Sandra Gal managed to “enjoy” her way around Industry Hills in LA and beat juggernaut Jiyai Shin to win the Kia Classic. It turned out that Shin had a chink in her armor, her putting. While she typically only missed three greens, she had 33 putts. After making 3 bogeys early on the front, she scrambled back with 3 birdies on the back. But her putter did her in on the 18th. After piping it to 4 feet, she was unable to make the putt for birdie. Gal stuffed her approach shot to 2 feet and did. Game over.

But you can’t say that Gal didn’t deserve it. While she missed 8 greens, her short game was so good she only needed 25 putts. And it was she who looked like a machine doing it. She had a flawless front nine, birdied 10, bogeyed 13 and made a fantastic up and down for par on 14. Her birdie on 16 kept the pressure on Shin and the one on 18 finished the job.

But there was something else that kept the pressure on Shin. In the face of all of the intense pressure Gal was dealing with, she clearly appeared to be enjoying herself, as in a calm, clear demeanor with occasional smiles. Smiles! Here are some snippets from her post-round interview:

…Had a good feeling about today when I woke up, so I’m happy to be sitting here now.

…I was really trying to focus on my game and not play her, but play the course.

You were smiling almost all afternoon after every shot. Is that how you usually are? Is that how you stay calm?

The way I played the last six months was with a lot of smiles. I think life’s too short to not enjoy what you’re doing. And I think that’s really helped me and my attitude and my game.

You said that you’ve been playing with a lot of smiles in the last six months. What changed that?…

I think just a couple injuries that I had in the beginning last season, a few cuts I missed there made me realize that this is my job. And you’ve got to love what you’re doing, and I wasn’t loving it. So I just changed my attitude towards it. I’m really thankful for what I’m doing and the game I play. You know, that’s made it such a big change…

And guess what? Shin actually noticed Gal’s way of being:

She was smiling all the time, wasn’t she?

Yeah, she was really enjoying it too…

And so now Sandra Gal can also enjoy her new-found notoriety. It is the all too familiar immediate transformation of the unknown. But while the unknowns are working their hearts out, they are in constant wonder about when it’s going to happen. And then, one moment they aren’t and the next moment they are.

It’s a wonderful thing.

PGA Tour

If Saturday is “moving day” on the PGA Tour, this Sunday was “back up day.” The overnight leaders I highlighted yesterday all had tough days in blustery conditions on super-hard greens. Leader, Martin Laird was 3-over; Spencer Levin, 4-over; Bubba Watson, 6-over; Steve Marino, even; David Toms, even; and Rickie Fowler, 6-over.

It was so weird to see that few people played well. It was a measure of just how difficult the day was. Justin Rose managed 4-under and Edoardo Molinari, 5-under, but those were the best. Four players shot 3-under, six shot 2-under and seven just 1-under.

So in the face of all that carnage, Martin Laird did a remarkable job of keeping hope alive until he was able to 2-putt from 82 feet on 18 for the win:

That was a hell of a day. That was a tough fight out there. You know, the golf course is playing very, very difficult. To be honest I didn’t feel like I had my swing really all day. Pretty much hit it everywhere the first until about the last four holes.

But, in his own words, a lot of mastery wisdom came out of his win:

Is it a roller coaster emotionally?

Yeah, you know, I tried to stay pretty calm, pretty patient all day, even after my 3 putt on 7. 8 really helped me after that. I hit a perfect tee shot down there and maybe one of the best shots I hit all day was the second shot to that hole because it’s just a nasty golf hole.

And you know, after that, it was a fight all day. But obviously very pleased.

Do you think what you went through today will do more for you going forward than if you would have shot 71 and stayed atop the leaderboard the whole time and won by one?

Yeah, I really do. You know, I mentioned yesterday that the biggest thing I took out of The Barclays [playoff loss] was you don’t have to play perfect golf to win golf tournaments. Because that day I struggled with my swing really on the last day, too, and nearly won that one.

I think I took a lot out of this, knowing that I can still win a tournament like this, with this strong a field and this tough a golf course, when really, for most of the day, I had no clue where the ball was going. Well, I did, it was going right most of the time. (Laughter).

I really had no control over my golf ball, I should say, with my irons. The one thing that held me there was I still drove it great.

When did you know today was going to be a struggle?

You know to be totally honest, after my last four holes yesterday. I didn’t hit it great coming in yesterday and I went and hit some balls when I finished yesterday and tried to work on a couple of things that my coach and I talk about when I start to struggle. I didn’t warm up great, but I knew it wasn’t going to be a day I was going to go out and just kind of flush it and have perfect control with my irons. I knew it was going to be a day I had to fight hard. And I holed a lot of putts. That’s really what it all came down to.

So in the face of knowing that he was not going to hit it well, in the face of not playing well, in the face of watching one stroke after another drip away, he didn’t get disheartened, he didn’t give up, he “just kept fighting.”

Courage and tenacity are every bit the attributes of mastery that serenity is.

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