Confidence and Scoring

David Toms shot an 8-under 62 yesterday to take the first round lead at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial C.C. in Fort Worth, Texas.

It was sort of a watershed round for him because he came ever so close to winning at The Players last week. He made a birdie from a fairway divot on 18 to get into a playoff with K.J Choi, but lost on the first playoff hole when hit his first putt 3 ½ feet by and missed the comeback. But rather than being discouraged by that, here he is again at the top of the leaderboard.

It came up in his interview yesterday that he’d had three good first rounds in a row and that taken together with his fondness for Colonial, it gave him “a good feeling,” i.e., confidence:

Getting off to a good start. [Now] I just need a fast finish I guess…So it was nice to see that…This round certainly helps me get past what happened at the end [last week]. I needed to get off to a good start. Because not only to help me get past last week, but also in a tournament that I like a lot here at Colonial, and I know that I can play well here. So just to get off to a good start and get there in contention right off the bat is a good feeling.

And then he talked a little bit about what it’s like to be in the playing doldrums, to go from being one of the Tour’s bulldogs to someone who couldn’t seem to find it:

I think that’s just golf for you. You can’t figure it out. You just go and you work. There is not a whole lot of difference between…shooting even par and shooting 8 under. It’s all about scoring and making that putt to keep your round going. That’s what the great players do, they always seem to find a way. On the driving range, the putting green, if you’re out there early in the week, and you are a casual fan, and you are like, what’s going to separate these guys? What’s going to happen for these guys not to be all tied when it comes down to the last hole, the last day?

He’s absolutely right on the money here. If you actually go to a PGA Tour event and just sit in the bleachers at the range on a practice day, you come away with a sense of the uniformity of the players’ greatness. While the swings may all look different to some degree, what’s all the same is the athletic, economy of motion, that accelerating motion through the ball and, of course, the resulting ball flight.

What you see is ball after ball flying straight and true at the target with just a little teardrop fade or draw. You don’t see “big mistake” shots. So if there is that high level of uniformity in the execution of the shots, what is it that makes the difference?

And just watching it, you can’t really tell. So it’s all about scoring. I think times when I’m not playing like I’m capable of playing, it can be attitude. It can be just things not going right. It can be a lot of different things. And confidence, obviously. But it is nice to be playing good again.

Certainly I’m not going to try to figure out why. I think if you look at the stats they kind of say I’m playing well across the board. But other than that, I don’t try to figure it out. I just go out there and play.

So that’s the secret to good golf, confidence and scoring. Or is it scoring and confidence? I’ve touched on this before, but is it possible to just “be” confident in order to engender good scoring? Or must we have evidence first; you start to score well and then you can be confident?

The question is more about whether confidence can be internally generated or must it always be stimulated by external events, external evidence. Evidence. We always want evidence. When asked about his confidence level, Toms thinks, as most players do, that’s it’s external:

You know, fairly high. But at the same time I still need to put four rounds together. I was able to do that somewhat last week. I had times back in the early 2000’s where I won by a bunch. You know, played with the lead a lot of times and was able to maintain it and increase that. Until I’m able to do that again, I will still have that doubt. But I do feel good about my game certainly. I will just keep plugging along, maybe get one here some time soon.

But in the end, confidence is actually internal. When Toms was talking about winning by a bunch, he was doing that because he was David Toms, the PGA Champion. It may have been evidence that got him to that level, but what sustained that was his new sense of himself. When you have injuries that cause you to play less than your best, as happened to Toms, the doubt creeps in, the sense of yourself diminishes and you start looking for evidence again.

So one way or the other, the secret to good golf, is, indeed, scoring. By scoring Toms means making putts for birdies. But it’s also getting up and down to keep a round going by saving par. And how that happens is by being confident enough in your reps and your technique to hit all the delicate little touch shots required around the green. You can sometimes mask nervousness with the speed of the full swing, but it’s much harder to do in the subtlety of the short game.

So if you too choose to wait on evidence in order to be confident, remember what your mother always said, “Don’t forget to work on your short game.”

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