You Get Better By Working At It

In yesterday’s post, “Sticking To Your Guns,” I wrote about how John Senden had been on a search for freedom in his game, that yesterday wasn’t a good day, but that he was committed to keep working towards that end in his next tournament at Doral.

And I wrote the following about what was ahead of him:

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.

To which a loyal reader commented, “…[I] wonder how a hacker applies this to his/her game?”

Well, the answer was delivered up in today’s post-round Q&A with Hunter Mahan, a 6&5 winner over Matt Kuchar who was having a bad day.

There were a series of questions that took us down the “how to learn” path beginning with mine about his early-week work with his coach, Sean Foley:

Q. You said earlier in the week that you worked with Foley to tighten some stuff up. And it certainly looked like that was the case in your play today. Are you pretty much done with that, is it integrated or are you still working on it?

I’ll be working on it until I’m 60, probably. Golf is great because you’ll never be done. There’s always work to do. It always feels like each week is the end, but it’s really not. You’ve got another week and another week and another week. There’s no end in sight. I’m always going to have to be working and trying to get better. There’s always going to be a shot that I wish I could hit better and I’ll always try to do that.

Take heart people! This from the No. 22 ranked player in the world and going higher now that he’s in the semi-finals at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. It’s not just you!

And then he got into some real gold when another reporter turned the subject to his short game:

Q. You were talking about your short game and DJ’s [Dustin Johnson] dealt with some of the same issues. There’s always a lot of chatter about whether you guys can chip, the style and technique and all those type of things. I wonder if you hear it, pay attention to it, if there’s any credence to it and whether that’s something that makes you mad or makes you want to practice or how you deal with that?

Yeah, I had–four years ago, I think I made my first Ryder Cup team. And I couldn’t chip it from me to you. It was just–boy, it was a long–I kind of remember how it happened.  I saw a guy–because I was curious. Boy, I was a good chipper and all of a sudden I kind of lost it.  I remember I went and saw somebody and it didn’t work out.  It’s one of those things you keep grinding on, keep working on.  And I just kind of kept building and building and building.  And all of a sudden I finally felt something and started trusting and I took it to the course.  And then I took it to the tournament.  And then it felt like, boom, all of a sudden I have all the confidence in the world.  You can put me anywhere and I’m going to get it up and down.  And it was a long process, but all of a sudden it just like, you know, it just happened.  I got to the top and, boom, I got it.

Q.  The short game guy didn’t work out all that well?

At the end of the day, it made it worse.  I saw people, but at the end of the day, people can give you all the advice in the world and you have to trust it, believe it and you have to do it over and over and over again until it clicks.  If you put the work in it will.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s not like–people say it’s not like DJ is going to be a bad–he just can’t get good at it, I don’t believe that.  Anybody that’s good at chipping or driving or iron play, there’s usually a reason for it, it’s not just luck.  You just have to find those reasons why and work on it and try to do better.

Q.  When did you turn the corner, do you think?

When did I?  The end of last year.  I was kind of getting it.  I would be inconsistent one day, the next day would be good, and the next day not so good.  And then I put it together back‑to‑back.  Like I said, I put some work in in January and I felt like–the first tournament at Torrey Pines it was great.  I kind of hit the corner probably mid‑January is when I started feeling it when I practiced, I could do it like every day.

Q.  Last month?

Yeah.

Q.  How is it you got good enough to play the Tour and yet you say you can’t chip?  Is it not on the level the rest of your game is because you’ve won on Tour and these guys are so good, if you couldn’t do something, you wouldn’t be out there?

Well, it’s not a contest of skills.  It’s a contest of getting the ball in the hole.  We talk about DJ can’t chip or hit his wedges, I don’t know, he’s pretty good.  He could have a couple of Majors in his pocket.  It’s about getting the ball in the hole.

Q.  That’s part of it.  Chipping is…

Chipping is part of it, absolutely.  But sometimes you can putt instead of chipping, which I did a lot (laughter).  Sometimes I would be, all right, what can we do here?  We have to get creative, just because I didn’t feel good about my chipping.

Like I said, golf is a game of getting the ball in the hole, and it’s not about–I can go to the range–I mean, I’ve seen so many good players on the range it’s unbelievable.  And they can hit it like no one’s business.  Grant Waite might be the best ball‑striker I’ve ever seen.  And he always had trouble putting.  Who knows what it is, I don’t know why.  But I truly believe that there is an answer.  I don’t feel like some people are good at this and good at that.  You can figure out a way to do it better and work at it and find a solution.  I think there’s always a solution.  I don’t think DJ is meant to be a bad chipper.  I think he can be a great chipper.  And I always felt I could be a good chipper.  And I always had to work on it and find the right recipe for success.  I finally got it and got confidence in it.  It’s a step to do it in practice, on the course, and then on the tournament.

On the tournament days, that’s a totally different ballgame.  It takes a lot of time and energy and work, but you’ve got to believe.  If you don’t believe, it’s never going to happen.

Q.  Were you ever a good chipper?

Yeah, I was.  I knew it would come around, it just took a little time.

As I said, this coming from the No. 22 ranked player in the world…who got there without a short game…and now has one because he knew it was possible.

And how he got one was by faithfully and patiently staying in the process of discovery:

Hit the chip (pitch, flop, sand shot, bellied wedge…).

How did it feel? Where was the ball on the face of the club, how close did it come to your target and was it on the intended trajectory?

What would you have to do to hit it in the middle of the face and hit your target on the right trajectory?

Repeat.

Do not allow your initial fascination to turn to anger when you don’t know or can’t figure out what to do when you do know.

The No. 22 player in the world didn’t figure it out until last month. Bless him for his generosity for telling us.

We can now all take a collective sigh of relief. And keep working at it. If it was easy, we wouldn’t be so fascinated by it.

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2 Responses to You Get Better By Working At It

  1. Ron Sanders says:

    It’s interest to note that an older amateur can improve into his or her 70’s while at the same time so Pro’s including Palmer seem to reach a wall and go nowhere but down as they reach their 50’s. Obviously, practice does work, but only on the way up, not necessarily on the way down.

    • Bill Rand says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ron. I think what you suggest is really a tale of two learning curves. On the one hand, the pro’s learning curve screams upward until it eventually begins to flatten out in their 50s…and then begins to get degraded by age. The typical amateur’s learning curve rises on a much flatter line and rarely reaches the skill set of an elite golfer, pro or amateur. In the end, age gets them both, but the amateur’s learning curve rises longer. But I don’t think it’s so much about practice.