Scott Stallings: Being Confident

Scott Stallings led Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament Thursday with little evidence that was possible after the year he’s had so far. Coming into the week on six missed cuts due to recovering from torn rib cartilages, he snapped off a nifty 6-under 66 that included two bogeys (that he took care of with an eagle).

But, you know, we kinda think, “Well, that was a real nice burst out of the gate, but he’ll probably come back to earth on Friday. So many of them do.”

Didn’t happen. On a cold, rainy Ohio day that got down into the 50s, Stallings managed to patch together an up-and-down round that equaled 1-over at the end of the day. But that was okay because almost everyone else was hamstrung by the rain, the rain delay, the blustery winds and the unforgiving, wet rough.

Mitigating all of those conditions was the rain taming the course down. It played longer because the balls weren’t getting a lot of roll, but that also helped keep them in the fairways (and away from that nasty rough). The greens had been rolling at a fiery 14 on the Stimpmeter; the rains took some of the fire out of them so that the players could putt more aggressively.

So in those conditions, Stallings’ 73 still left him T2 with Spencer Levin and some stranger named Tiger. And the three of them were just one back of Rory Sabbatini who managed a terrific 3-under 69 in those conditions. The low round of the day was 4-under by three guys: Jim Furyk, Henrik Stenson and Lucas Glover and helped Furyk get to T5 and within two shots of Sabbatini.

Levin did basically the same thing Stallings did, hold his own by shooting even par. Tiger, on the other hand, had another of those, “I really hit it pretty good today. I had good traj’s and was able to control my golf ball.” He missed three makeable putts, but was otherwise happy with his putting and looking forward to Saturday.

But, happy though I was for Tiger to tease us some more that his two-year ordeal may be ending, that wasn’t what captured my attention reading the transcripts. It was Stallings.

It was Stallings because of what he improbably accomplished Friday, but also for his answer to the last question in his post-round trip to the media center. The only problem was the question was off-mike so we’ll never know what it was (unless we find a witness, but by the end of each session, most people can’t imagine any other brilliant question will be forthcoming, so they’re antsy and ready to move on).

But none of that mattered because, whatever the question, it elicited this very illuminating answer:

Yeah, I definitely felt like my game was right in form. My coach came into town for three days and we kind of got after it pretty good and had some long days on the range. He wasn’t really concerned about my golf swing or anything like that, he was more or less just trying to make sure I was confident and when I stepped on the tee I was prepared to play, and that was kind of all we really talked about.

That just grabbed my attention:

  1. He worked with his coach for three days
  2. They “got after it” pretty good
  3. They had long days on the range
  4. His coach wasn’t concerned about his golf swing
  5. His coach was just trying to make sure that he was confident when he stepped on the tee and was prepared to play
  6. And that was all they really talked about

And to make my case about people not really listening at the end of these interviews, what else grabbed my attention was that nobody followed up on that answer! How about:

  • You worked hard on the range for three days and you basically just talked?
  • Were you hitting balls while you were talking? What exactly were you doing?
  • Were you doing any roll-playing work to help you picture yourself as more confident?
  • How did your coach satisfy himself that you were, indeed, confident?

The reason these questions flashed through my mind was my former partner in the School For Extraordinary Golf we co-founded, Fred Shoemaker, used to lead a couple of exercises on just this very thing, “being” confident.

In the first exercise, the scenario was that during a Tour broadcast, the video feed dropped out just before the player way back in the fairway hit his shot. By the time the feed came back, the ball was right next to the whole with no video to explain how it happened.

So the student has suddenly been drafted to be a stand-in for the Tour pro and his swing. He’s so far back in the fairway, he doesn’t even need to look like the pro, he just needs to act like he was a pro, to adopt all the confident mannerisms of the pro, to studiously consult with his caddie (Fred) and make a swing. He didn’t even have to hit the ball because the camera wouldn’t be following it anyway. It was the act that mattered, not so much the swing. Once people got over their self-consciousness the transformation never ceased to amaze. You could see the confidence oozing from their bodies.

And the second exercise that Fred did was along the same lines. He asked the student to describe their perfect image of a 6-iron shot. And once they did that, he would say, “Well, we know you can’t hit that shot, but if you could, how would you swing?” And after each attempt, the question would remain the same, “Well, we know you can’t hit that shot, but if you could, how would you swing?” After a half-dozen iterations, it was always amazing how the increasingly confident swing was finally able to match the vision.

So that was why I was so captivated by Stallings’ last answer: has Tour coaching finally evolved beyond the Xs and Os of swing mechanics? Is there Tour coaching that would allow the player to access that larger sense of themselves so that the swing mechanics would just organically come forward?

What would be possible if everyone played with great confidence…whether they felt that way or not? Is it possible to switch off that self-doubt long enough to hit high quality shots?

From experience, I know that the answer to that question is, “yes.”

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