Carl Pettersson won the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, South Carolina. And he won it going away. He was only 2-under on the day, but he knocked out three early birdies that pretty much inoculated him from any kind of serious pursuit. When you get to a five shot lead at the 9th, it pretty much looks to everyone like you’re going to win the tournament. His late bogey on 15 didn’t do anything to change that.
The only one who had a chance to put any pressure on him was Colt Knost who started just one stroke back. But he started rushing through the moment on his very first tee shot.
Rushing through the moment is that reflexive reaction to doubt and fear. Your senses become so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment that you have physical reactions to it. They include sweating or trembling hands, shaking legs, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach up to and including nausea. You’d do anything to relieve that pressure.One of the ways to relieve that pressure is to get by that moment, to rush through it as a way to get it over with. And so rather than being in the moment with a calm, clear and present mind, you find yourself rushing. Rushing through the moment rather than being present to it. It’s almost like you can’t help yourself: stop it! just stop it!
We’re all familiar with the feeling, even if we don’t play the game at a high level. And it happens most often when we get to the course late and rather than paying close attention to each warm-up shot, we rush to get more in. The thought is apparently “quantity” will get us to our best swing fastest when, in fact, quality practice swings will get us there with a better swing.
See if this sounds familiar: and you don’t notice it until you have a series of bad shots on the course in the early going and someone helpfully says something like, “you’re too quick.” That finally wakes you up – raises your consciousness level – you slow your tempo down and begin hitting better shots. But it wasn’t the tempo that fixed it, it was the higher level of awareness one step beyond that. With better awareness came better tempo.
And that’s what happened to Knost on the first tee. He needed to be on the right side of the fairway to have the best angle into the pin, but he hit it in the left rough. He couldn’t hit a big enough hook around the trees, so he ended up short and right of the green, not a bad miss. But his chip shot went some six feet beyond the hole and the perfunctory comeback putt was way quicker than all the good putting he demonstrated the first three days.
When you have a chance to win your first tournament, the enormity of this life-changing event is all you can think about. It becomes your number one goal and everything you do is in support of achieving that goal. Everything. But because it’s typically so far out in the future, it almost becomes an abstraction. And then one day your chance is upon you; it could actually happen today! The resultant nerves can be a lot to handle.
And so even though Knost made a birdie on the par-5 2nd, he snap-hooked his drive on the 3rd just 180 yards into the left tree line…into a hazard…made triple bogey…and ended his threat. But this is the closest he’s come to winning on the PGA Tour, he demonstrated that he can play and in short order will realize just how much this experience taught him.
As for Pettersson, this was his fifth victory, tying Jesper Parnevik for most PGA Tour wins by a Swede. Pettersson came to this country when his father took a transfer with Volvo to Greensboro, North Carolina. He finished high school, spent two years at Central Alabama Community College and attended North Carolina State in Raleigh. He liked Raleigh so much he settled there.
All of this is relevant because of what innocently came up in the course of his post-victory interview. Tying Parnevik for most victories, he was asked if he’d be mobbed back in Sweden now:
Probably not. I haven’t lived there since 1987.
Yeah, I know I’m Swedish. I’ve spent the majority of my life – I lived in England for five years. Sweden ten years, my first ten years, and then England for five years, and then in America ever since. I honestly feel more American than Swedish. I became an American citizen this year, I’ve got dual citizenship. Sweden is a golf crazed country. I know I’m from Sweden, but I’ve lived here so long I’m very American.
And then a couple of questions later, this exchange:
Q. You said you got your U.S. citizenship this year?
Q. When did that happen?
Beginning of the year.
Yeah. Only test I ever made a hundred (laughter).
Q. Why did you decide to do that?
Well, my wife is from here, obviously, and I’ve got two kids, and I’ve lived here since 1994, and I just felt like it was time. I’ve still got my Swedish passport, dual citizenship. I love America. It’s a great country. It’s given me everything I have. And I just want to be a part of the country.
God bless America and God bless Carl Pettersson.