The Fall Series – The Interminable Wait

Well, the Fall Series, the five-tournament, year-end opportunity to save your job on the PGA Tour, is rumbling to a conclusion. With four down, we have just one to go before we know who’s safely inside the 125 cut line, and who may be headed back to Q-School for another chance to prove they belong. 

Unfortunately, there is an interminable, two-week wait until it gets here. The Children’s Miracle Network Classic on Disney World’s Magnolia and Palm Courses in, Lake Buena Vista (Orlando), Florida, doesn’t begin until Thursday, November 11th

When you first look at the Fall Series calendar, the five tournaments are grouped together and it never occurs to you that they aren’t on consecutive weeks. Turns out they are except for this last one. It has to make way for both this week’s CIMB Asia Pacific Classic Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and next week’s fourth and final of the year, World Golf Championship, the HSBC Champions, in Shanghai, China. (More about these later.) 

So the players won’t know for three weeks whether they’ll keep their cards, try to play a pot luck schedule of about 18 or so events from the 126 to 150 positions on the money list or go back to Q-School to earn their way into more tournaments. Those outside of the 150th spot who don’t have other exemptions will most certainly be going back to Q-School. 

So how do you deal with these two weeks mentally and how do you work on your game? 

The mental side, the mastery side, is all about playing with the cards you’ve dealt yourself. On the one hand, this could be a welcome respite to find your swing and tune up your short game. If you’re playing badly enough to be worried about all of this, you’ll need a sharp short game to clean up your messes. As I was waiting for my swing to mature into a Tour-quality swing when I was Monday qualifying, I incessantly nurtured my short game. It’s good insurance that gives you more confidence and confidence breeds freedom. 

The other possibility, “go play somewhere,” is a frequent avenue to better golf, especially since there’s a big gap between practicing on the range and producing on the course…in a tournament. But the most frequently used choice, jumping down to the Nationwide Tour for a quickie, isn’t available this week; they’re having their Tour Championship and it’s limited to the Top 60 players on their money list. Serious stuff for them: the top 25 earn a PGA Tour card this weekend. 

So how do you master the interminable wait? How do you work on your game with the weight of the world on your shoulders, your future flashing before your eyes? You know, it’s not just you, it’s your family too. Will you ever play on the Tour again? 

It always comes back to the same thing, finding that peaceful inner essence in yourself that will allow you to pay undivided attention to the only four things that matter: target, ball, club, body. There is a mesmerizing trance you get into working on the range. It is a gauzy gaze of objectivity. No judgement, just “what is.” What you learn over time is that it isn’t the swing you have to take to the tournament, it’s the trance. The trance allows the swing to reveal itself to you, “Oh, yeah. There you are again.” 

And you have to practice what the tournament environment will be like, imagine the circus and all its attractions and distractions. In the case of Disney, that will include the two-round pro am on Thursday and Friday. And then let it go and get back in the trance. And then let it go again and get back in the trance…and again…and again…until you’re just there and don’t even have to think about it. Even if you’ve brought the family along with you as many players do that week.

Hopefully, everyone will make the best of their wait. 

Briefly, the inaugural Kuala Lumpur tournament is a small, 40-man field made up of players off of the World Rankings. It is the capstone of Southeast Asia’s foray into elite professional golf tournaments, with the ladies having been there last week on a different course. For the Tour, it’s an opportunity to extend the game and the brand in a burgeoning market. It’s also a chance for the players, as the ladies did last week, to adjust to the time zone of next week’s World Golf Championship in China. 

The WGC is professional golf’s attempt to put the best players in the world on the same course in four, big, lucrative tournaments. It’s a big deal. Phil Michelson won Shanghai last year and both he and Tiger are in the field this year. I’ll have more to say about it next week. 

In the meantime, the clock ticks stateside.

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