Three Faces of Mastery

Yani Tseng

Because of the historic nature of her win in the Wegmans LPGA Championship just outside Rochester, New York, we begin with Yani Tseng.

At just 22, she became the youngest player in modern golf to reach 4 major victories. And the way she looked yesterday, it looks like she’ll be winning many more. Although, she didn’t get off to the start she was dreaming of.

You know, I ask my coach this morning, what can I do today? I have a five shot lead. You never know on this golf course. He told me just go out and have fun. You always show your big smile this week and just do the same thing as yesterday. And I was really, really nervous on the first hole. I pulled my drive [when a media photographer’s high speed shutter went off in her backswing] and made bogey. I made like 3-foot putt for bogey. My hand was shaking. I just tried to save par from the first hole.

So you’re standing on the brink of history and something completely outside of your control knocks you way off kilter. You are so rattled by this unexpected turn of events your hands are literally shaking trying to at least salvage a bogey. Three feet is a long way away when your hands are shaking and your mind is reeling, “What if I miss this?”

The mastery in her victory was not letting herself be affected by that; she immediately reeled off 3 birdies in a row with a series of approach shots that left no doubt who was going to win this tournament. She did make another bogey late on 13, but by then it didn’t matter because she was already 5-under on the day and had a huge lead for a major. She finished with two more birdies to end up at 19-under for the tournament and with a 10-shot victory. And she did that with five of the LPGA Tour’s royalty hot on her trail: Morgan Pressel, Suzann Pettersen, Christie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Stacy Lewis (Jiyai Shin and Michelle Wie never got it together finishing T34 and T72, but still).

So congratulations, Yani. You make it look much too easy, the hallmark of a master.

Frederik Jacobson

Because of all the rain they had in Hartford, the TPC River Highlands, home of the Travelers Championship, was toothless. Without fast fairways to force good tee shots and hard greens to prevent greedy, pinpoint shots, it didn’t have a chance against a PGA Tour field.

In a masterful performance, Frederick Jacobson finished at 20-under par and only made one bogey all week long. Think about that for a minute: 21 birdies and just one bogey. And there was some masterful thinking behind his win too:

I was pretty clear before the day that what had been working and what kind of kept me in a good rhythm all week was to focus a lot on my routine and on my preshot stance to really get me into every shot and just try to do the same thing over and over, as tiring as it can be, but just try to wear the course out by just hitting solid, hitting the ball solid.

But with all the rain delays and waiting around, it wasn’t quite that simple as he encapsulates with his trademark sense of humor:

I told my caddie I think after Friday, I said, well, this is turning into a little bit of a sleeping contest as well, see who can get the most hours in before, knowing that it was going to be a really long day on Saturday that I had to play 32 holes yesterday. So I figured the one that can be the most rested, you know, sleeps in the car on the way back to the hotel and call for some room service, try to get everything in quick so you can maximize your sleep because tee-off was at 7 again.

I’ve written before about whether to look at the leaderboard or not as you’re coming down the home stretch. It isn’t so much about the leaderboard itself, it’s about your state of mind and whether looking will take you out of the zone. Or the flip side, will the worry of not knowing how you stand take you out of the zone.

For me, I gotta know, but Freddie didn’t want to know until after he hit his second shot into 18. He wanted to be focused totally on using his routine to hit a quality shot every single time. If he could do that and it wasn’t enough, so be it. He could live with that knowing that he had been true to what he knew was the best way to get the most out of himself.

And it was enough. His shot safely on the green, his caddie told him Ryan Moore just made bogey and a 2-putt would win it.

Congratulations on your first PGA Tour win, Freddie. And congratulations too for being able to manage your mind and your body in that kind of pressure cooker.

John Huston

Every time I see John Huston, I am reminded of one particular event from his time on the regular Tour. He had just signed a new endorsement deal with a shoe company whose bright idea was to build inserts into their shoes that were built up on the outside edges of the player’s feet. The concept was that if the player’s feet were canted in, it would reduce any tendency to sway during the shot.

The key word in the foregoing paragraph is “build.” One of the rules of golf is that when playing a shot, you cannot “build a stance,” for example, by kicking up turf or soil so that it acts like a rubber on a pitcher’s mound. Well, nobody thought about those inserts being like a rubber until Huston was standing there in his hot new shoes before his round and somebody told him. A mad dash ensued to get into a conforming pair of shoes.

And he’s been engaged in another mad dash since he came out of the Champions Tour in early June, a mad dash to win. And to his credit, he pulled it off in just his third start when he managed to win yesterday’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, NY.

This is a nice story because his last million dollar year on the Tour was back in 2003. After that, he began a slow decline each year until he made just $170,000 in 2007. But he could still play making almost half a million in 2008; he had to go back to Q-School where he finished T4. But he fell on hard times again and this 7-time winner on the PGA Tour was soon reduced to trying, unsuccessfully, to make cuts on the backwaters of the Nationwide Tour.

“Myself, I won seven times and I probably didn’t enjoy it as much, you know. I took it for granted a little bit. I’m really going to enjoy this. Once your skills start diminishing, even a little bit, you start doubting yourself a little bit.”

He worked hard for this victory. He got himself into the gym months in advance to get buffed up for his Champions Tour debut in order to take advantage of his relative youth and length. As Greg Maddux famously said in the old Nike commercial, “Chicks dig the long ball.” And so do winners. Congratulations on your comeback, John.

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