The thing that people don’t fully appreciate about four day golf tournaments is…that they’re four day golf tournaments. It’s not just how you do on the first day or the last; you have to put four rounds together.
But even within a round itself, it’s not just the first hole that you have to play well, it’s all eighteen. It’s one of the reasons that Tour pros slow everything down, way down, and rounds sometimes take six hours. You just have to be so damned…careful.
And so elaborate pre-shot routines get constructed. The caddie walks out between the tee markers and points at some easily seen object or landmark, just to be sure. Sure that the player is focused on a target and not on the consequences of shot. Sure that the line is changed for any deviation from the practice round winds. Sure that the player is calmed down, speaking and unhurried. The rest of us twiddle our thumbs.
And it’s the same with putts. In practice rounds you take a look from behind the ball and maybe what you think the low side of the putt is just to confirm what you saw from behind. But in an actual round, you’re looking, you’re squatting, you’re stalking, you’re conferring.
And then you go about your business of the keeping your routine as uniform as you can, that the pace of your body and your mind stays even. No excitement. No adrenaline surges. No trying to get your pulse rate down. You go about your business of playing as well as you can with all of your being fully engaged in each shot.
And if you’re attentive and lucky and good, you’ll have a day like Jhonattan Vegas had in Vegas today in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open played at the TPC Summerlin. He shot an 8-under 63. 63. 10 birdies. Imagine that. All you’ve been doing for weeks since you got knocked out of the playoffs is pointing towards this one. And suddenly your realize that you’ve pulled it off.
And the same for William McGirt, whom I wrote about Wednesday in, “The Fall Series – Keeping Your Card,” pointing additionally to a post about him at PGATour.com. He shot a 63 also, but he did it the easy way with 8 pristine birdies. The two of them are tied for the lead, a shot ahead of the pack, which was a first for McGirt.
And now, they have to do it again. They have to think about what they have to do to do it again. Vegas talked about how great he was hitting it and McGirt talked about not watching the leaderboard until Sunday because, “Sunday is the only time it really matters”
Knowing that you have to go low on this desert course where the ball carries forever and runs forever, you want to get fixated on your swing—there’s security in that for some reason—but once you’ve arrived as a player, you’re not thinking golf swing, you’re thinking about targets and tactics for playing the course. That’s an easy transition back to a low score.
But still the mind races away wondering if you can do it again, knowing that this tournament requires a very low score, remembering the kinesthetic feelings so you can go feel them again without trying.
But these guys have a wonderful cushion they’ve built up. At the other end of the leaderboard, it’s another story. But the need is the same: to go as low as you can again…and again…and again; to win, in the case of Vegas and McGirt, to make the cut and make a check in the case of Carl Paulson.
The veteran Paulson shot 4-over with a double, 3 bogeys and a birdie. He too is working to shoot a very low round Friday, but he doesn’t have as much evidence for that as the leaders do.
So that’s why the tournaments are such taut thrillers. It’s why everyone tiptoes around with such deference for the players; they suspect that all of this is going on and they don’t want to interrupt for anything.