Being at the Effect of Things

The breezes blew in from the Gulf of Mexico and a whole new week began on the PGA Tour in New Orleans.

The first round of the Zurich Classic got underway at the TPC Louisiana, a 7,341-yard, Pete Dye-designed challenge in Avondale, a suburb just south and across the Mighty Mississippi from the city. The river moves west to east at that point, just before it turns back south and spills down into the bayou.

Ken Duke and Cameron Tringale managed to cruise around a windy golf course in ho-hum, 7-under 65s. Duke’s card was clean, Tringale had one bogey (which means eight birdies!).

They both said things in their post-round interviews that sparked some thoughts. We begin with Ken Duke. When I interviewed him at the Phoenix Open, he talked about his new fitness regimin and working with the legendary teacher, Bob Toski. And he reiterated those two things here, but he also talked about “confidence.”

Q. Overall a few times when you’ve been in contention here this year, what gives you more confidence the more you put yourself into position, the better chance of having a birdie?

Just the confidence. Just confidence in your game. Confidence being right there in the heat of the moment and trusting your game, believing that you can hit shots and that’s what you practice for and that’s why you’re out here.

We’ve all heard this a thousand times, but that’s because it’s so true. Confidence begets confidence begets better scores.

But it’s what happens later that interests me from a mastery point of view: How do you play confidently when you don’t have any confidence? The answer is by playing confidently. Confidence seems like it’s at the effect of events occurring on the ground, but you can summon its deepest forms by simply playing confidently, even when you aren’t.

Oh, you’ll still have those body tingles when you confront a dicey shot. But if you can approach it as if the shot will certainly come off rather than hoping that it will, if you hedge a little by playing conservative lines, you’re more than halfway to getting on a roll. If this was a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, the program would most certainly kick back a “self-referential” error, one of those programing errors where you’re trying to, say, add a column of numbers…which accidentally contains the total cell itself (Doh! Another Homer Simpson moment).

The idea is to pay attention to the tingles and ask yourself what you’re afraid of? When you can experience the tingles and still play confidently, that’s another step towards mastery. Regroup, experience the tingles, relax, hit the shot as confidently as possible…and then repeat.

The goal is to move away from having your confidence be at the effect of your results.

And then Cameron Tringale, working on two top 10s, went down the same road about confidence. It gives you an idea of just how important confidence is and how it is always “in the air” when Tour players talk about their games.

Tringale is interesting because he played his way onto the Tour making it through Q-School at the end of 2009 for the 2010 season. He demonstrated that he wasn’t quite ready for prime time by missing 17 of 22 cuts. He went back to Q-School again, finished 4th and was back in business in 2011. This time he was ready, making 23 of 32 cuts and $1.3 million. This year he’s on pace to beat last year’s numbers, and sitting where he is on the leaderboard Thursday night, things look promising.

Q: We were talking on the way over here, you come in off a two top-10 finishes, the Shell Houston Open and the Valero Texas Open last week. Talk about your form coming in and your approach this week…

My game felt really nice for quite some time and don’t know how to explain it. Just playing with a little confidence and it goes a long way in this game. But everything is in order and, you know, I feel comfortable off the tee, iron game is pretty solid and my short game has just been really fantastic the last couple months. So, bringing it altogether and I can have some good weeks.

Q. Can you explain, other than the two top 10s, the confidence that you’re playing with now, what has turned things on for you?

I guess I feel comfortable with my game so I guess I don’t feel like I have anything [in my game] I’m trying to avoid. I can just go out there and try to hit the shots that need to be played and be confident that I can hit them instead of trying to play away from certain shots. I feel comfortable hitting them all.

And my short game has been really good. That always frees you up to, you know, maybe be a little more aggressive with your approaches.

And neatly sums up what confidence is like when it’s on. But simply “being” confident is the fastest way to get it back once it’s gone…or find it if you’ve never experienced it before.

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