Wells Fargo Championship – Charlotte

And so the PGA Tour begins anew…again…this week rolling into Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Wells Fargo Championship at the Quail Hollow Club.

Everyone is pretty excited about this one because:

  1. The field is great and includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Lee Westwood, Bill Haas, defending champion, Lucas Glover and Keegan Bradley among the best known players.
  2. The Quail Hollow Club is a gorgeous course that is a good test and an excellent tuneup for the Players Championship next week at PGA Tour Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
  3. The purse is a quite plump $6.5 million, so not only is it very attractive on its own merit, it makes it a very attractive tuneup for the staggering $9.5 million next week.
  4. Having said that, nobody will be treating it casually and will be playing hard for the trophy on its own merits.
  5. The finish is always up in the air because of the last three holes, 16, 17 and 18 known as “The Green Mile.” The 18th has a water hazard that runs the whole length of the left side and the second shot plays uphill to the green perched on a plateau.

So that’s what we all see about the tournament. But in addition to that the players see something they can’t do anything about but is a big factor: the weather. The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is a 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms.

So as we’re watching the placid first two days, we need to keep in mind that 156 guys know that they have to get as low as they can by Friday night as a hedge against tough weekend conditions. Is it a big deal? No, because they have no control of it. And they won’t be thinking about it specifically during their rounds. But they will know that they have to “make hay while the sun shines” and once they know they’re safely inside the cut line, may choose a slightly riskier shot when there’s latitude.

The tournament doesn’t have a long history but it’s always produced a worthy winner dating back to David Toms in 2003. He was followed by Joey Sindelar, 2004; Vijay Singh, 2005; Jim Furyk, 2006; Tiger Woods, 2007; Anthony Kim, 2008; Sean O’Hare, 2009; Rory McIlroy, 2010 and Glover last year.

And the other thing that a good tournament like this one does is get some of the best players into the media room so that we can pry some more ideas on mastery from them. This week, Phil Mickelson, who came in on three weeks rest, provided some jewels.

Q.  When you take an extended period of time off, what’s the most challenging thing to get yourself back into competitive mode?

It’s not too challenging getting back into competitive mode because I miss it.  When I haven’t played for a few weeks, I’m excited, I work hard, and I look forward to getting out on the course and working on my game.  It’s when we’ve played repetitively for three, four, five weeks that I tend to get stale because I lose some of the focus and desire to go work hard.

My first trip as a Monday Qualifier was a five-week affair that ran up and down the East coast. I lived in San Francisco at the time and could not wait for that fifth week to be over. And given the commitment I was bringing to the whole adventure in the first place, that surprised me. The next one was just three weeks and that seemed to be perfect; you could stay fresh from beginning to end.

Q.  …I wonder if you as we’ll just say a veteran can kind of talk about not losing that sort of fresh approach on the golf course and how you can get kind of maybe jaded a little bit and get away from being so friendly and being good with the fans.

I don’t think that’s ever an issue because I love what I do.  I love coming out to the golf course and playing some of the best courses in the world in perfect condition, competing for a living.  It’s one of my favorite things to do, whether it’s for a huge purse or just among friends.  And the way the people have treated me and my family over the years, it’s very easy to get excited to see everyone because they’ve been wonderful.

If I do need a break, the great thing about golf is we’re able to make our own schedule and take a break when we need it.

Q.  You have a great record with a 54‑hole lead.  What’s your mindset going into a Sunday when you have a lead?

My mindset going into Sunday is to just find a way.  Just find a way to get it done.  I don’t worry about mechanics, I don’t worry about ball‑striking, I don’t really care where it goes because I figure I’m going to have to rely on my short game at some point, I just want to get it in the hole and find a way to get it done.

The first few days of a tournament I might be thinking about swing, I might be thinking about other things, but when it comes right down to Sunday and getting it done, that’s all I’ll focus on is just finding a way to get it done.

Q.  One of the strongest parts of your appeal, I think, from a distance has always been that you seem never to play not to lose.  Where does that come from?

You know, that’s a good point because you’ve got to play without fear.  You’re going to make mistakes.  It’s going to happen.  You have to deal with losing.  It’s part of the TOUR.  Out of 156 guys each week, one person is going to win, so 155 lose.  But you can’t worry about that.  You’ve got to let it brush off when things don’t go your way.  But rather than play tentatively or with concern or fear or let somebody else hand it to you, I’ve always like to try to get the tournament in my control where if I execute the shots I’m able to pull off the victory as opposed to letting somebody else hand it to me.  I think it’s more that desire of trying to control my own destiny than let somebody else handle it, which has forced me to play aggressive.

Q.  This is a follow on never playing not to lose.  Someone who knew you way back in junior golf said that the thing that distinguished you is you were never afraid to take a chance on a shot, and I think a lot of people, young and old, are afraid of outcomes.  They don’t want to fail, and that keeps them from succeeding.  What do you think it was about you?  Was it your upbringing, your parents, something that you weren’t worried about the consequences of failing?

I don’t know at what age I started to act that way.  I know that when I was a psychology major in college and high school, one of the ways to face a fear or to get over a fear was to tackle it head on.  There was a few different ways, but the one that I felt was the best was if you don’t like snakes, go hang out with snakes a bunch and eventually you’re going to get over the fear.  I never felt comfortable flying so I went and got my pilot’s license.  I never felt comfortable with being in an awkward situation, so I took up martial arts.  I just always want to take on my fears head on.

That’s kind of the way I approach golf.  If there’s a shot that I don’t feel comfortable with, I’ll go on the range and work on it until I do, until I turn that weakness into a strength, and where I see a lot of mistakes being made out here is people practice their strengths, and they don’t take their weaknesses and turn them into strengths.  It feels better to practice things you’re good at, not the things you struggle at, and I’ve always tried to do the opposite.

So as we watch Phil ambling around this week, we can maybe reflect back on the substance in these answers and know that while he may have a reputation as a riverboat gambler, there’s a well thought out, method to his madness. Enjoy.

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