Mastery Can Look Mundane

We think of mastery and we think exceptional. We think of mastery and we think above and beyond, superhuman, extraordinary. And to a large extent, that’s what mastery is. But when you start trafficking in domains where mastery abounds, it sometimes looks like the mundane.

Take for example this week’s leaderboard at the Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut.

It seems like all the name players missed the cut: Jeff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Lucas Glover, Kenny Perry, Kevin Na, Corey Paven, Boo Weekley…and in some cases, badly.

And at the top of the leaderboard we have the perennial Swede, Fredrik Jacobson, who’s been on the Tour since 2003 and never won. He’s so much on the periphery of the Tour, I always thought of him as a European Tour member who played the U.S. Tour on occasion. In fact, he’s a Tour member who plays a full schedule here, has made a very nice living doing it and lives in Jupiter, Florida. And in a world of great eye-hand-coordinated, world class athletes, Jacobson is the Tour’s hands down ping pong champion.

And as the broadcast unfolded yesterday, Gary McCord, got to laughing at how good Jacobson’s short game is: in so many words, “he can get up and down from anywhere and he can putt!” All of this then amply demonstrated by a series of great short game shots and exceptional putts.

On the other hand, Jacobson has always had a very quirky swing, one of those only-a-mother-could-love-swings. Peter Kostis, the CBS swing analyst, demonstrated on the slow-motion replay that it’s actually a pretty sound swing; it’s just his head that moves in a quirky motion making the rest of it look that way.

The other thing I’ve noticed about him in both this week’s broadcast and last week’s U.S. Open is a maturity in his face that I hadn’t seen before. In looking at his photos to gather this research, it finally dawned on me what it is: he’s given up his spiked hairdo for a short haircut and he’s turned in his low profile visor for a more staid painter’s hat.

And perhaps that maturity is more than just a look. In last night’s interview in the media room, he couldn’t remember his seven birdies. At some point in the proceedings, the media always asks the player to recap their birdies: what was the yardage to the green, what club did you hit and how long was the putt? The staff person had neglected to collect the details and Jacobson was so in the moment during his round, that once he made one, he let it go and he was on to the next one.

Q. Can you go over his birdies?

Staff: I don’t have it with me.

Jacobson: I don’t know. I let go of it. I don’t remember.

Staff: We’ll have to do that one later.

Jacobson: We’ll have to do it again. It was tough enough to do one.

Right behind Jacobson by one stroke is another familiar name but with murky details, Bryce Molder. His name is familiar primarily because it’s so distinctive. But in fact, Molder had done a long apprenticeship on the Nationwide Tour to finally earn his place on the Tour in 2009. The reason we tend to think of him as having been around awhile, he earned a “Special Temporary” membership in 2002 based on his Nationwide play, but didn’t earn enough money to keep his card and it was back down again. After he finally broke through, he earned $1.4 million in each of the last two years. Solid. But he’d dearly love a win.

And so it goes: James Driscoll, 3 back, has been playing PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour events as a professional since 2003 and his amateur record got him into events, including the Masters, dating back to 1998; and the six guys back of him have a total of 11, 14, 4, 7, 5 and 8 years of playing on the Nationwide or PGA Tour in at least one event. That’s 49 years of experience just 4 back.

And let’s not forget young Mr. Cantlay, the amateur 1 back of them, who had a bad day yesterday but proved on Friday that it is possible to shoot 60 on this course. His lowest round by an amateur in a PGA Tour event sent his scorecard on its way to the World Golf Hall of Fame…at 19.

Having all of these guys right behind me would make me shudder. We’ll see today how Freddie handles it.

LPGA Championship

And no conversation about mastery would be complete this morning without mentioning Yani Tseng. She amassed a 5-shot lead yesterday going away with a solid, low round of the day 67. Only the tenacious Christie Kerr managed to go that low, but she started from well back and only managed to move up to T5 and still 8 strokes back.

So it has all the appearances of a coronation. If she wins, she will become the youngest player to have won four majors on any Tour.

And her prescription for winning? “Tomorrow I’m just going to go there and smile all day and then play smart and just have fun out there.”

She said she was going to do that at the Tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco, didn’t, and lost by 3 in the closing holes to Stacy Lewis. Let’s see if she can keep that smile going today. Important moments in life like these, have a way of wiping the smile off of anyone’s face. But the smile isn’t as important as being placidly and completely invested in the moment, all in, fully committed and not thinking about anything else. Think Rory McIlroy at this year’s U.S. Open.

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