Champions Weighing In

Holding The Shot…

I’ve written many times before about the final linchpin to playing consistent golf, the ability to hold the shot you visualize in your mind’s eye through the entire swing. The best description of what it feels like is in “Body Magic,” and the best ratification of the idea came in, “Yani Tseng Mastery Interview.” And I wrote about how the shot becomes a natural extension of the swing in “Detached Certainty.”

Now comes Phil Mickelson weighing in during his post-round interview after yesterday’s third round at the Shell Houston Open where he shot a sizzling, 9-under 63 with no bogeys. He calls it “holding the focus:”

Q. Talked a little bit out there about how you haven’t been able to hold the focus for 18 holes but you were able to do it today.

It’s something I’ve been working on, what I said in the last three, four months where I feel like my game is really close. You know, when I practice, my driving or my iron play, chipping, putting, the elements of my game feel like it’s better than they’ve ever been, but I haven’t been able to put it together to shoot the low scores and that missing piece has kind of been holding the focus, seeing the shot, being able to hold it throughout the swing.

Was the best that I’ve done in a while and something I’ve been working on the last couple of weeks to get ready — not just get ready for next week [at the Masters] but have good performance week in and week out.

In this next question, a quick read makes it sounds like he’s deliberately being unresponsive. But he’s not. His answer goes to the complexity and nuance of the mastery process. It is an experiential nugget that we all hold in our minds in different ways that isn’t always straightforward or linear…or describable:

Q. Do you go about working on being more focused, because — how do you improve focus and how much of it boils down to being this time of year and knowing what’s coming next week?

A long answer. I don’t know where to start.

And then this last one for emphasis:

Q. Kind of mentioned this, too, how to balance preparing for next week and then focusing on a victory here? What enters into your mind, trying to win this week versus let’s get ready for next week?

You know, [it] hasn’t really changed. What I’m working on is what I did best today which was really seeing the shot and executing and holding that picture throughout the swing, and I probably did that better today than I have in a long time.

If that’s true and he’s able to do it, he could make quick work of the rest of the field in today’s final round.

…and Smilin’

And speaking of the aforementioned, World No.1, Ms. Tseng, here she is in her post-round interview at the Kraft Nabisco Championship where she shot a very solid, 6-under 66 to take a two shot lead into today’s final round. She echoes what Sandra Gal was saying after her victory at the Kia Classic in LA.:

Q. Yeah, you really looked like you were having fun. How can you balance out being aggressive and having fun and smiling and yet playing serious golf at the same time? That’s really gotta be a challenge. How do you pull that out?

You know, I see the people following me they were having fun, too, so I don’t feel like they are watching they enjoy watching me play. That’s why I want it. Every time I smile it makes me feel more relaxed. Sometimes when I’m nervous I smile, too. Even when I have a bad shot, I try to smile because I will get rid of it. Always looking forward to the next shot.

And this quote about building confidence, not being afraid to lead and win. And reiterates “enjoying” it and the proverbial “one shot at a time.”

Q. Yeah. Have you played this well before, do you think, for this you’ve had five pretty good tournaments in a row.

Yeah. Probably not really, but like this year, I’ve been working hard on it all season. And I started very good this year, and like every tournament I keep building the confidence. So I mean I’m trying to not lose the confidence. So even if I had a bad shot, I still try to build the confidence for myself. So this is good for me when I hit one good shot and I know next one I can do it better.

So like this four, five tournaments, I really learned a lot. And I know now I’m not afraid that I’m leading right now. I’m not afraid that I’m two shot lead. I don’t think too much for tomorrow that I have to win. You know, I just want to enjoy it and I know how to play one shot at a time.

And finally, here’s one about the pressure of playing from the lead and the power of affirmation:

Q. Yani, you’ve talked about how you learned a lot at the British Open, Women’s British Open last year because you won while you were leading rather than coming from behind. Obviously you get a chance to put that into practice tomorrow. What did you learn at the British?

Yeah. That’s the first time I really like I’m leading and leading the tournament. So that was really tough. I didn’t have a good sleep on Saturday night. I was dreaming about beat me on the final day, and I wake up at 6:00 in the morning. So that’s a curse really for me.

And like on Sunday and me and Katherine [Hull] she’s playing so good. So she pushed me a lot. And then I just retried to focus on my game and keep telling myself, I can do this, I can do this. I probably repeat a thousand times, I can do this [and won by one]. So tomorrow I need to do the same way. Like I said, I did it before and now I’m leading, so I just want to do it again.

If both Phil and Yani are able to access their accumulated wisdom today, they should cruise. It’ll be fun to see what happens.

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