Steve Stricker managed to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Monday on the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort in Maui, Hawaii. But it was a real cliffhanger at one point. He began with a 5-shot lead, but by the time he got to the 6th hole, it was down to just one. How did that happen?
It was a combination of Stricker, one of the best putters on the Tour, 3-putting on the 5th and 6th holes, the first for a par-5 and the second for a bogey-5. That was only one dropped shot, but that took him from 19-under to 18-under for the tournament. But by that time his closest pursuers where hot on his trail.
He was playing with Jonathan Byrd who got it from 14-under to 17-under, just one shot back. And Martin Laird, playing in the group behind, did the same.
And that, dear readers is how a 5-shot lead shrinks to a 1-shot lead in the blink of an eye. And you still have 11 holes to play and who knows where your game is going to go and where theirs is going to go?
But Stricker has a lot of experience:
After bogeying 6, I really gave two shots away at 5 and 6, and going down 7, I’m like, you know, we’re all right–I knew I still had a couple-shot lead–if I could make a couple birdies out of the next two and turn at 1‑under.
I hit a good shot in there at 7, didn’t make the putt, and then hit another nice one in there at 8… That got me a little bit more settled down because that’s been a tough hole this week. I hit it in the hazard there the first day, three‑putted it yesterday. So that was a huge relief when I made that putt [on 8] and then birdied No.9.
So I felt like things kind of settled down there a bit.
There’s no worse feeling than feeling that something you worked so hard for over three days (and all the years that led up to that) was slowly slipping away from you. It takes a great deal of experience and discipline to remain calm and positive…when there’s no immediate evidence that you should be.
It really comes from always expecting the best outcome no matter the situation and then accepting and learning from the outcome when it’s not. If you’re always expecting the best until the bitter end, you at least give yourself continuing chances to pull it off. And many times you do. It’s the secret ingredient of winning. When you are at peace, you are relaxed and when you are relaxed you have freedom and range of motion in your body.
But standing on the back of that 6th green, Stricker had to work on himself a little:
You know, I was kicking myself really on the back of that green. I had just made two dumb plays… I was kind of beating myself up a little bit, not feeling too good about what had just happened.
But then walking down 7, I always go back and forth, and walking down 7, I said, all right, we’re still all right. I mean, if I would have told myself early in the week, if I have a two‑shot lead going down the 7th hole in the last round, I would take it. So I kind of tried to reverse it a little bit and make myself feel good.
It’s not just a mind trick, it’s a way of being. But it can be hard to do:
It is hard to do. No momentum, and that’s the way it was yesterday, too. But I also know this is the way I typically play this course, too. Over the years I’ve kind of treaded water on the front and then I’ve usually played pretty well on the back.
So I just knew there was birdie holes out there, and I also kept telling myself, if I shoot 3‑under today, Jonathan Byrd…Martin Laird or Webb Simpson…they would have had to shoot 8‑under.
So I just kept telling myself, you know, I still–I’m all right. Don’t worry about them. Make two or three or four birdies, and we’re fine. But it’s hard to do. You feel like you just want it to end and be done. But it can’t.
“You just want it to end and be done. But it can’t.” Stricker’s observation captures the very essence of pressure situations in big-time professional golf. It can be excruciating while you’re waiting for it all to unfold.
And so he has found a way to just “be” with it and still perform at the highest levels. The glass just needs to remain half full.