Now attention turns to the second major of the year, the U.S. Open. This year it will be played at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
The U.S. Open is an intentional ordeal. As I wrote earlier in the week:
Since the USGA runs the event and not the PGA Tour, they pretty much do what they want to. So the course setup invariably involves narrow, shaved fairways, six-inch rough almost impossible to play out of, and greens that are so hard and fast, you pray there won’t be any wind to complicate your green reads. The famous quote from a USGA executive, “We’re not trying to embarrass the best golfers in the world, we’re just trying to identify them.”
Because of those starkly different conditions, the word of the week is, “patience.” PGA Champion, Martin Kaymer, from Germany, explains it in yesterday’s media center session:
Q. Your modesty is legendary; you very rarely boast about your accomplishments. Are you thinking that this can be your tournament, and if so, how do you feel that you’re going to do it? What do you have to do well here, beyond the obvious? Do you have to start well? You mentioned being patient. But I’m wondering if you think you can go out and win this.
I have to start okay. If I have an okay start to put myself in an okay position for the weekend then I’m just looking for that great round on Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes that great round is not even necessary, just playing solid and avoiding double bogeys, triple bogeys, stupid mistakes. And I think the majors is one of those things you approach and hope that you will have a great round, one of those four days to put yourself straight up there. But it’s more about, you know, playing your way along, waiting for your chance. And if you are patient and just wait for it, you know, one of those four majors you might get – you might have a chance to win. And it’s nothing that you can push or try to force. It’s just a waiting thing. I really enjoy that, to play difficult golf courses, where you can’t force anything. It’s not a putting competition [go low or go home]. You need to play smart, you need to think a lot and you need to wait.
It’s mentally very tough. And I think 30, 40 percent of the field, they get really frustrated if they don’t see the birdies happen, or they make bogeys, they get frustrated with the golf course. But a lot of people who struggle on those golf courses, a lot of people will make bogeys. It’s just tough to score well. And it’s about waiting, waiting for your chance on Sunday.
So it’s a real high wire act. On the one hand, all of your competitive instincts scream at you to go after those birdies, “Go for it!” But on the other hand, your intellect taps you on the shoulder and says, “Wait for it, dude.” Patience.
If you want a sense of what that feels like, go for a drive in non-rush hour traffic…in the right hand lane. Drive for miles and do not leave that right lane for anything. Allow feeder traffic to join the party, do not pass those who are in less of a hurry than you are, even if it’s a big, overloaded dump truck that can’t go that fast…and, oh yeah, whose load is raining down on the road every time the truck hits a bump…and maybe even it’s a wet load that has water in it too. So not only do you have to maintain a larger gap, other drivers keep jumping into your gap slowing you down even more.
In time, you will probably feel the back of your neck beginning to prickle, the frustration gradually welling up in your chest, your stomach in knots, dumping acid. It’s amazing who you’ll find in that right hand lane. And it’s not unusual for the epithets to begin forming in your fuming mind even if they never cross your lips.
Now imagine yourself in that mind state standing over a downhill, left-to-right, 8-foot putt on a lightning-fast U.S. Open green. However would you calm yourself enough to be able to begin that stroke?
Or imagine yourself on the tee of Congressional’s tree-lined 12th hole, a 471-yard, par 4 dogleg left. You’re well into your round and nothing’s happening for you yet. And you’re looking out there at a fairway so skinny you wonder how you’re going to be able to get a ball in play, how much of that dogleg you can cheat around…that maybe with just a little more “sling” in your swing you can work it around it…all with that impatience monkey on your back. Everybody knows that you have to be relaxed with no tension in your body when you hit the ball. Just how do you do that with your teeth clenched?
Or how about that little, floating pitch shot you have to carry up out of the swale and delicately land just on the edge of the green with just a couple feet tolerance? The only way you can play that shot is with loose, soft, accelerating arms with no fear or reticence…or impatience.
So as Martin Kaymer pointed out, it’s almost impossible to play in that sort of jacked up state of mind. And, of course, while a U.S. Open course exacerbates all of these things, that holds true for any course.
What is there to do about it? Just like every other aspect of the game or personal growth: practice. You have to practice being patient, even if you have to drive 30 miles per day in the right lane just to be in the constant question of your impatience; when does it come up, how fast does it come up and can you cultivate a way to instantly let it all go?
And although it’s not always easily in reach when you’re under the gun, the antidote is always the same, “This isn’t the way I want things to be, but this is the way things are. This shouldn’t be happening, but this is what is happening. And whatever it is, I am bigger than it and I will not be at the effect of it.” A mantra to live by.
For Tour pros, the really evolved ones, this is a long-practiced state of mind.