On Tuesday of this week, I wrote, “Where Does It Go?”, in an exploration of how the game can become such a mystery sometimes. My impetus for the post was the fledgling, meteoric career of Jhonattan Vegas, Venezuela’s gift to the game of golf, because his post-win record was a perfect example of how we lose our way in golf. His performance indicated that something else besides golf was going on because he had already so amply demonstrated that he could play.
As I said in the post in laying out how you lose your level of awareness, as much as anything, it’s the relentlessness of the Tour schedule that a new player just can’t appreciate until you get thrown into the cauldron. And like anything else, it requires practice. You have to be in the cauldron to practice holding it together in the cauldron, to place yourself into the incessant mental demands of the Tour to learn how to disappear them once you’re inside the ropes. You can’t just think about it…and that takes time.
Why all of this suddenly came up three days after I wrote the first post is because Vegas may have found his way through the rookie maze to the balance and equilibrium required to consistently play the game at the PGA Tour level. He shot a flawless, 3-under 67 in yesterday’s first round of the AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s just one shot back of the leaders, Adam Scott and Hunter Haas, and it seems a welcome revival of the dominant skills that got us so excited early in the year.
What makes things like this possible is learning to lay down a baseline mindset with which to go into each week. Week in week out, your mind can’t stray. For example, you need to be thinking about the course you’re playing because, basically, that’s all that golf comes down to: you against the course. You beat the course, you beat your opponents. This is what Vegas was thinking about in yesterday’s first round:
It’s a really difficult golf course. There’s no doubt about that. It’s a course that you have to have absolutely everything in place to play great, and that’s kind of what I did from tee to green today. It’s a course that you must hit the fairways, and even when you hit the fairways you’ve still got to be careful with the greens. You’ve got to really find where the flags are, where to leave the ball to give yourself a good chance to make birdie because it can definitely get you if you don’t pay attention.
That’s a lot of stuff, but it’s made easier by a clear mind’s ability to generalize across all of the holes. There’s not a lot of detail as to the holes; this is more a mindset that you need to keep locked in place to call up on the brink of each shot. You don’t think about these things one item at a time like some sort of checklist, you hold them in your mind as a sort of amorphous sense of the course. And that requires a relaxed, unforced awareness.
So you have to learn how to do this over time. You can get away with a narrow band of concentration to notch your first win very early, but you inevitably will suffer the distractions of your new station of life. When your mind is on those distractions, it can’t be on the amorphous senses…until you learn how to compartmentalize the distractions. Vegas was asked what some of the things he was learning were.
To really stay patient, to really have a plan, to not really—just to really be yourself, play your own game, not really get ahead of yourself because especially when I won so early and then almost won the following week, expectations were a little high and I want to win every week, and sometimes the game puts you in your place if you’re not careful. Like I said, just really going back and being myself, playing my own game and not worrying about anything else.
And in that same post, I wrote about the ego worrying about consequences, appearances, relationships to others, or institutions and how these amblings take you out of the present and degrade your ability to keep your head in the game. This is how that happened to Vegas:
It’s been really tough because being a foreign player, especially coming from a country that has no idea about golf, the demands internationally are really tough, and that’s something that I really have been having to deal with, and it’s been taking a lot of my time.
The thing that I realized after a few weeks of playing horrible is that mentally you really get worn out if you’re not careful, having to deal with so many things, the media back home, and trying to explain to everyone what really golf is and finishing top 20 in a Tour event is not the end of the world because the people keep asking, why did you finish 19th, are you kidding, what a horrible week. I’m like, really?
So it’s been hard having to deal with all that stuff, but I’m taking it as it goes and being a little bit more patient and just trying to just focus on myself a little more.
We’ll see how he does today, of course, but it just could be that he’s got his rookie tutorial behind him and his consciousness rising. With his million-dollar smile and personality, it would be a good thing to see.