Can You Keep Believing?

There was an interesting juxtaposition at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, between Saturday’s overnight leader, Webb Simpson, and Friday night’s leader, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey.

Simpson came into the day T2…and made bogey right off the bat. And then two pars, before he made another bogey on 4.

Because they had a long rain delay and finished late, there were no media room transcripts to find out what might have been going through his mind at that point. Do you take it as a harbinger of a bad day to come? Or do you ignore it because you know you’re a birdie machine and you have a lot of holes left to get it back?

At the professional level, you ignore it. Or, in the absence of a transcript, so it would seem; he birdied the next hole. And then he went into a two-hole lull before he birdied again to get back to even.

Now I don’t know about you, but how many dozens of people have you played with who, filled with resignation, capitulate to the first bogey, their rounds ruined? Lots, right?

But Simpson didn’t. No doubt due to the fact that he knows he’s a birdie machine. And that’s the lesson in there for the rest of us, whether you’re a par machine as a single-digit handicap or a bogey machine as a 24-handicap. The thing about this is to incessantly think of yourself as the best of yourself, not your worst fears about yourself.

So Simpson went four more holes with nothing but pars…until the heavens opened and he birdied 13…and 14…and eagled 15…and birdied 16…and 17. He shot 6-under in 5 holes for a 29 (the integral 9-hole score for shooting the elusive 59) on the back nine and a 2-shot lead over Gainey.

For his part, Gainey did the same thing, almost. He bogeyed the first two holes and then birdied 3 of the next 4 holes to get to 1-under…until he bogeyed the next hole and fell back to even.

And then he churned along for 9 holes making par after par until he birdied 17 to get to 1-under on the day. Going 9 holes making pars sometimes takes as much patience and courage as shooting at a pin hard by a water hazard. Why? Because you are called upon to do so for a much longer period of time; over two hours. Oh, yeah, and with a weather delay sprinkled in there.

Here’s the thing about the two of them; they’re both destined to win. Simpson because of his strong 3-year record on Tour, his Wake Forest pedigree and strong belief in God (he majored in religion and tweets about God routinely). And Gainey because the guy has paid his dues. He has been beating his brains out on backwater mini-tours until he convinced himself that he had the right stuff. And now he’s here on the Tour, he’s had many great finishes that didn’t quite get him to the promised land, but he can see it from here. And he’s tenacious and gritty and natural.

But they both have an Achilles chink in their armor. As I’ve written before, Simpson has a naturally fast swing tempo. But under pressure, I’ve seen him go from fast to quick. Fast is fine. Nick Price is fast. But no good player is quick because quick doesn’t allow the swing to efficiently unfold. Quick leads to being in a hurry to finish some aspect of the swing and being in a hurry is no good for a sequentially-proper swing. Something, somewhere will be out of synch.

Gainey has a fast tempo as well and a home-grown swing. And because it’s so idiosyncratic, you either trust it or you don’t. And when you don’t, where do you turn? Who can help you with a free-form, non-textbook swing? In Gainey’s case, his brother, who has served as his coach for a long time. Which is nice, because it takes a practiced eye to be able to watch the flow of the unconventional and determine that everything is okay.

Peter Kostis, the teacher and CBS broadcast commentator was the first one to demonstrate that to me. He was able to see that the only thing unconventional about Fredrik Jacobson’s swing is his emphatic head motion. Watch the swing while ignoring the head and you have a classic golf swing I was never able to see before.

Anyway, my only concern with Gainey for Sunday is that his brother, the coach, is in town. And knowing the gulf between the placid, focused mind state necessary to play competitive golf at the highest level and the intellectual, controlling, thinking mind necessary to get the most out of a lesson, I worry about contamination.

So if Simpson can remain calm enough to remain in tempo and Gainey is able to unleash his natural instincts and just play, it should be a helluva final round.

And, oh yeah, they’ll be paired together. And we’ll get to see who can keep believing.

And finally, the lede story of the week, who was going to make the playoffs and who was not, becomes a sideshow in the face of what our two leaders might do. But that said, a sideshow worth checking into throughout the afternoon. Here’s the projected list of the cut survivors clustered around the 125-point cutoff mark:

114 – Rod Pampling

115 – Joe Olgilvie

116 – Camilo Villegas

117 – Josh Teater

124 – Justin Leonard

125 – William McGirt

126 – Tim Petrovic

130 – Padraig Harrington

133 – Paul Casey

134 – Jason Bohn

Good luck and play well, boys.

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