Yesterday I devoted basically my entire post to Aussie, John Senden, and his incredible post-round interview after the second round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
In it, he spoke about how he saw his career flashing before his eyes and wanted to step up to the next level as a player. And the key to that as he saw it was that he had to stop playing so much for consistency and start playing with freedom.
He spoke about how he saw this quality in all the great players and he mentioned Phil Mickelson particularly. “…Phil Mickelson, he doesn’t steer it. He just gets up there with a rhythm. Mickelson, I’ve noticed, that he misses cuts, but he wins tournaments, as well, that same way. So I’m trying to get to that level.”
I was so excited that a Tour player was speaking about the central tenet of this blog, freedom, that I followed his match on the front nine today. He was paired with 25-year-old, Korean phenom, Sang-Moon Bae. And what I was particularly looking for was the level of freedom in his shots.
As he later acknowledged, he didn’t help himself with his driver. On the par-5 2nd hole, he went for the aggressive line over the bunker but pulled it into the primary rough. He left it about 70 feet short of the pin on the up slope, but wasn’t assertive enough on the little pitch shot; it came up short and lamely rolled to the edge of the green some 11 feet away. He missed the putt, but it was the driver that set all of that up.
On the par-3 3rd, he flew the ball beyond pin high in the left primary rough and needed to be defensive on the pitch shot. He had to dump it on the top ledge so that it would just get to the edge before it rolled down the steep slope to the hole. He left it on the ledge.
On the long par-4 5th (485 yards), he took an aggressive line again and ended up in a fairway bunker. He had to hit a short club to clear the lip, came down 50 yards short and made double bogey trying to catch up.
He seemed to settle after a solid par on the par-3 6th, so his drive on 7 was ripped 312 yards and he went on to make birdie and win the hole. That and the birdie he made on 8 got him back to All Square. And he stayed that way until he hit it into the desert on 13, only made par while Bae made birdie.
But he drove it 325 yards and onto the par-4 15th green and made birdie to go AS again. But then turned right around again on the long, par-3 16th (245 yards), missed the green right and then left his pitch shot in the primary rough trying to be too delicate. As I wrote on my Media Day experience with that rough, it’s very thick and delofts the club, so delicacy is very difficult to gauge once you’re in it. That put him 1-down and he was only able to match Bae’s pars on 17 and 18: match over.
It is very hard to step outside of the box, take the “risk” of playing with freedom, but then find yourself constantly behind the 8 Ball. It is a long and winding path.
I was able to briefly interview Senden after the round, told him of my amazement that he was talking about freedom, that I had devoted a post to him and wondered if he could give me a sense of how he did on the freedom scale today.
He said that his driving had let him down and that it’s hard to play freely when you’re trying to catch up. But that he still saw it as the path to himself as a great player and that he was going to be working on the exact same thing in two weeks at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral in Miami.
That, of course, is exactly what it takes. Once the light bulb goes on illuminating the path, suggesting the possibility of something bigger in life, the only way to realize it is by committing to it fully and completely.
It is not a straight path to Nirvana. It moves in fits and starts, it makes us euphoric, it makes us furious at the intractable nature of change and what you have to go through to make it happen.
But there it is, always there, always out in front of you, with the promise that you could be more. Who wouldn’t want that for themselves?
All you have to do is stick to your guns…like John Senden.