The LPGA Tour media staff told me that the players are generally very approachable after their rounds, none more so than Paige Mackenzie. So as she was shaking hands and expressing her gratitude to the LPGA founding players situated behind the 18th green at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup, I buzzed around the grandstands to the scoring tent. And she was more than approachable; she was eager to help and very gracious. I began with the context of my interview:
What I’m interested in is talking to all the good players out here who have accomplished mastery out here. So for example, I’ve interviewed Yani this week, I got Lexi on Tuesday and Sandra Gal yesterday. And the reason I’m interested in you is that I see you as right on the cusp of having that kind of accomplishment.
The other reason I’m interested in you is that I know you’re educated [University of Washington], I know that you’re smart [she tweets links to Forbes articles] and I know that you’ve got a great sense of humor.
Well, thank you. Flattery will get you everywhere!
Yeah, I thought I’d try that first. No really, I follow you on Twitter and you tweeted from some golf shop somewhere about this new hat that you got. And then when you clicked through to the photo, it was this huge, headcover that you’d pulled over your head…
…and I was just in hysterics.
So anyway, that’s why I’m interested in you. So getting to accomplishing what you’re capable of is a process of patiently and gladly doing the work. So what’s that like for you? I know you had your best year last year.
Yes. What’s interesting about my story is I feel like in college I was reaching my potential, that I would come out on Tour and be the player I thought I was and believed myself to be. And it didn’t happen that way.
Was that a shock?
It wasn’t a shock. I actually went through a lot of — I had a stalker that followed me around all year that year. And I had a — I mean that’s just a huge, off the course distraction.
And that kind of rocked my world. And I lost a lot of confidence. And so, it’s taken me a couple of years to get confidence back. And then also I went through other swing adjustments and whatnot.
But, for me, I still feel like I’m reaching for where I feel like I should be. Because I’ve been there and there’s something to be said for knowing how to win, being under the pressure and finishing a tournament. And I’ve been there. And I’ve done that. So I know I’m capable and I know that my skill set is getting to where it needs to be to do that at this level. So like you said, I feel I’m right on the cusp as well, of a really great year because I just came off a really great last year and even — it was the highest finish on the money list I’ve ever had, but it was also the toughest year to do that, not playing on the Asian swing to start the season.
Because you couldn’t get in?
No, because it was based off the year before’s money list. And so then I had to qualify into the Kraft Nabisco [the year’s first major], and I qualified into the match play. I qualified into the Evian and into the British. So it was a year where I really came from…
You earned your keep.
I did! So it felt good to do it when I knew I needed to do it. Because that was the year that was, honestly, most important to get into the Fall Asia swing, get into the top 50 on the money list, that would get me into the Asia swing to start the year…
…and make enough money to get back into the Kraft and the rest.
Are you still working on your swing?
Um huh, a little bit.
Because it doesn’t look like you are.
Well, thank you. I’ve been with the same swing instructor, John Stahlschmidt, who works out of TPC Scottsdale, now for three years. And we haven’t worked to change anything in maybe the last year or year and a half.
So I’m not really working to change it, but I definitely got “off” my first three weeks of the season [in Asia]. So the last couple of weeks since I’ve been home, I’m trying to get back to where I was [laughs].
By doing what? Reps? Being on the range beating a bunch of balls?
Yeah, [but] I’m not much of a ball beater.
Okay, I like to hear that.
Well, I had a really, really bad back injury in my sophomore year in college. So I learned real quick when I came back from my injury that it’s quality, not quantity.
And a lot of my preparation is visualization, because I think the power of visualization is very underrated as far a repetitions in your mind, in my opinion, is almost as good as repetitions physically.
You know, Yani, Lexi and Sandra said the same thing.
Yes, absolutely. So it’s kind of just — like right now I feel as though I’m there. I just have to gain the confidence that when I stand over it I know that I can just let go and trust it.
When you play, when you let go and trust it, you’re not thinking about your swing?
No! Gosh no.
You’re thinking about…
Target only. And really, it’s not even target. For me, it’s, I literally can see the shape of the shot happen. And the very like curve, visual. Like I see — like Royal Melbourne was really difficult for me this year…
It was difficult for everyone! [just 3-under got into a six-way playoff.]
Yeah, but even more so for me because there’s only three tee boxes where you can see the landing area. So every single time you had to pick a target in the distance and just hit it toward it and hope that it works out. I’m not like that. I need to see the whole shape of the shot…
…to the ground…
…to the ground. But what’s great about it is that I feel like I’ve already hit the shot before I’ve hit it. So it’s great, but it’s very difficult on courses like Royal Melbourne.
So it’s like deja vu all over again when you finally get ready to hit the shot.
So putting, same thing right? It’s all target.
Yup. Same thing. And all I see is curve lines.
I was really glad you made that long putt on 17…
Because I thought, “I’ll sure get an interview now.”
Well, it was an interesting day out there. I had two double bogeys today and shot even par.
I watched the whole way around. It was very impressive.
Especially with the unplayable on 5.
I know. Who knew that hill was going to get in the way? I hit a good 3-wood and I was like, “I didn’t even notice that!” I didn’t even consider that I couldn’t clear it. I didn’t even notice it.
What I noticed about you yesterday on the putting green and on the range was that there is a sort of fastidiousness about you. There is a prim and proper way that you hold yourself. I watched you on the range yesterday and you were always adjusting your clothing after each shot so that it would be perfect like it was before the shot.
Not so much today because you had a skirt…
I know. The mike did it to me. I couldn’t tuck it all the way in.
Let’s go to the mike. What was that like? Have you done that before?
No. In fact, I have actually been asked to do it before and I have declined. But this year — it was weird — this week with Brock being inside the ropes I was already so relaxed that I didn’t feel like I was going to be put on the spot. Because that’s what I always felt like if they asked me before: I felt like I had to put on a show and like entertain. And with Brock there, it’s just the two of us out playing golf anyway.
And so you were able to just stay present to the golf. Were you even aware that you had it...
Well, I could feel it when I was walking; it was like bouncing on my back. But beyond that, I wasn’t wary of the fact that I had to watch what I was saying.
So that fastidiousness that I noticed shows up in your swing, that I noticed. There’s a certain crispness to it all. There is an athleticism to it all that [playing partners] Suzann [Pettersen] didn’t have, that Momoko [Ueda] didn’t have.
The other thing I noticed between you and Momoko was how at peace you seemed to be no matter what happened. So how did you get the place where you were able to do that.
[Laughs] Um, I just think there’s just so much more to life than the game. And I think really, it’s just a perspective. I don’t — obviously I still get mad if I hit a bad shot.
Sure, but you get over it.
It is one of those things that I’m so thankful that I get to do what I like to do. You know, I play golf everyday. It’s my job. I still have that perspective, which is good because I still appreciate that this is what I get to do.
You will be pleased to know that yesterday, Angela Stanford said the exact same thing. Because last year she talked about how much anger she had when she hit bad shots and how hard she was on herself. And she was just sitting up there on the [media room] dais completely at peace and I went, “Oh she finally got it.”
And here you are in your career way ahead of where she was timewise and you’ve already got that figured out.
So any other things my readers might be interested in terms of how to approach the game from a mastery point of view? Not so much about the swing, because it’s not that…
Right. Like I said, when I came back from my injury, and this is like such an interesting time in my golfing career, because my first round after — I did not touch a club for ten months, not played a competitive round for twelve months. And my first round back I shot 68.
I won my third tournament, college tournament, I won my first college tournament. And it was only like my third coming back. And I still wasn’t back one hundred percent because I wasn’t able to practice and play the way I wanted to.
Why? Because you were able to visualize what you wanted to do all that time?
I think it probably goes back to, I had a wonderful perspective. I was so appreciative and thankful that I could play.
Grateful. And I did. I read a ton of books in the time I had off like Lance Armstrong’s autobiography, I read a great book called, ‘Mind Over Water,’ that was about a sculler, like a crew sculler, and a variety of other books that were mental building.
Can you think of any others?
Well, Lynn [Marriott] and Pia [Nilsson]’s first one was during that same time frame, ‘Every Shot Must Have a Purpose.’ I loved that book. Those are the ones that stick out for me.
Okay, so those are probably the ones that are most important.
Right. And like I said, with Lance Armstrong and the crew book, they weren’t even about golf. It was just about — and both of those were individual sports though and I think that’s what really translated for me. These elite athletes in their respective sports really pushed themselves. And I think that you’ll find that with anybody out here, that there has to be a desire to be self-motivated. There is not a person out here that can be motivated externally. All of this comes from within.
And, I mean, I don’t try to win to win money. I try to win because I want to beat people.
Really? Sweet, little old Paige?
[Laughs] Well, you know what I mean? That’s what differentiates great players from those that are good, but still need an external push.
Yesterday in the media room Yani was talking about how she’d kind of crossed over into this sense of gratitude and all of that. And she smiles a lot on the course and just won her first tournament this year. And so I asked the whole juxtaposition question, ‘Now that you have this kind of gratitude and you appreciate the game, if you get to the end of the year and you’ve only won that one tournament, will you be satisfied?’ She didn’t think so.
No, but it was like, ‘Would you really?’ if you got to play all that time.
Right. I think three months after the season ended, you’d be able to say, ‘Oh, I’m lucky to be able to do what I’m doing.’ But then it’s like, ‘It could have been!’ [Laughs]
Okay, anything else?
No, that’s it.
Okay, thank you so much. I really appreciate all the time.
Someone else approached her as I was leaving. As I started towards the media room, Brock was standing to the side of the cart path, minding Paige’s bag, speaking with a friend, waiting. I politely leaned into their conversation and said to him, “Your sister is such a sweetheart.”
And he smiled.