Ever been lost with no clue what’s going on in your golf game? And you had that feeling that everybody knew the essential secrets of golf except you? And it got so bad that you did your best to hide your ignorance so that no one else would know?
Well, Pilgrims, I have good news: it’s not just you.
That big void in our understanding is a function of consciousness, not some lack of golf swing information. I started thinking about it when I wrote about World No. 1, Yani Tseng, speaking about how, good or bad, she was working on always playing with a smile on her face.
In her interview after the third round at the LPGA Tour’s Kraft Nabisco, Yani said:
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.
So as I was watching the final round on Sunday, I found Yani’s bearing very interesting. Locked in a battle with eventual winner, Stacy Lewis, the two of them put on a great show. It was finally decided on the par-3, 17th hole when Yani missed the green short right in the bunker and couldn’t get it up and down. Stacy made an improbable birdie from above the hole and could barely breath as she waited for Yani to try to make her par putt. You could see the joy and euphoria spreading across Stacy’s face as her mind got ahead of her, thinking about how the day might end for her. She realized what was happening and quickly put a lid on it. Game face back on, back in the present.
Actually, it was probably over before that. As the vice tightened coming down the stretch and Yani hit shots that weren’t up to her normal standard, I noticed that she wasn’t smiling as she said she would be trying to do. In fact, it looked like with each shot that left something to be desired, her brow furrowed ever so slightly in worry. As it progressed, a couple of times she had her head down lost in thought. I never saw a smile. Not even a nervous attempt at one to con herself into it. It’s hard to be the Sunshine Girl when you fear your dreams may be slipping away from you.
But here’s the punch line. Her post-round interview was so gracious and informative, I’ve included the whole answer to the first question, emphasizing the gold in it:
It was a tough day out there. It was very windy today and the green was pretty firm and it was very hard to adjust my distance and the speed of my putting. Stacy really played awesome out there. She handled the pressure really well and she played great.
I did my best. I tried my best today, and I didn’t give her any shots today. So I hung in there until the last putt and smiled the whole way, whole day.
So it was good and it was very good experience for me this time. Golf is golf, so this is normal. I just didn’t play well. And hopefully next tournament will be good, and I just really want to congratulate Stacy. She did really awesome today.
So here you have the World No. 1 player totally oblivious to the fact that while it was her intention to smile all the day long no matter what, try as I might, I never saw the first glimpse of one. Having interviewed her one-on-one, I know that she is a sweet and kind soul who smiles at the drop of a hat. It’s in her countenance. But she couldn’t manage one as the evidence of her round unfolded.
The point is that it wasn’t “her,” it was her unconscious reaction to what was occurring. And that’s how it is for most of us when we find ourselves up against the wall under pressure. We become oblivious to what’s occurring in the moment. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of pressure either. It could be as mundane as trying to decipher the signs at a strange freeway interchange at 70 miles per hour. You know that little emotional burble you sometimes feel? It’s like that.
And there’s only one thing to do about it: come to realize that it happened so that, whether you can manage that smile or not, you can at least become aware of what happened.
Awareness is the key to the kingdom. And as the dawning comes, it eventually leads you down the right road. But if it was easy, we’d all be playing on the Tours.