“I hit a good drive up there and hit it to about 15 feet, and first hole of the day, gave that putt a good run, missed it a touch and rolled three feet by and I missed a three-footer. I mean, it just — which is terrible. I’ve let a lot of shots like that slide.”
I begin this post with this quote from Phil Mickelson explaining why he won’t be around this weekend at the Greenbriar. But this doesn’t just happen to Phil. You will recall that I.K. Kim lost the LPGA Tour’s Kraft Nabisco because she went to sleep on a one-foot putt. Make the putt and your life changes forever. Miss the putt and you end up losing in a playoff.
And as I explained in “The Lesson In A Missed One-Foot Putt,” this comes from the mind wandering when you have a putt so short you don’t bother to give it your full attention. So rather than your mind being totally present to the putt, you look but you don’t see.
When a good putter is on, there is a moment right before you pull the trigger when your gaze at the hole, the line, the ball and the line on the putter shifts from those separate details to a congealed knowing. It’s like your consciousness is elevated and your awareness just zooms in, sharpens everything…and then you putt.
And neither will Tiger make the cut. His was a struggle to hit the ball pin high, the hallmark of his game throughout his career:
[At Congressional] I had my distance control dialed in and this week I was hitting the ball so far. I know it’s hot, I know we’re at altitude. My sand wedge is going 142, 145; wedge is 160. These are numbers that I don’t normally hit. Some of the bigger guys hit those numbers but I don’t, and I was really, struggling to get the ball at the right number.
So with all deference to the ladies leading the U.S. Open and the gladiators leading at the Greenbriar Classic, the two biggest names in the game missing the cut on the same weekend is the biggest story coming out of the weekend so far. It’s never happened that they’ve missed a cut together before.
In the grand scheme of things, of course this won’t be as big news as who goes on to win the tournaments. But right now, for its shock value, it’s the biggest. Tiger just came off an impressive victory at his AT&T tournament at Congressional. Phil has not been playing well lately, but with the British Open coming up, you might think that he would have been a little more tuned up coming in from an off week:
The parts don’t feel that far off, but I haven’t been putting them together. It doesn’t feel bad off the tee, it doesn’t feel bad with the iron play, it doesn’t feel bad chipping or putting. But I’m making a lot of, you know, some loose drives here or there, some loose iron shots here or there, missing some short putts here or there, and just haven’t been putting it all together.
This description of a disjointed game is quite good because it leads us to think about the opposite of this. What does it feel like when it’s on? In a word, complete. It feels like you have a synchronous set of tools at your easy disposal with which to take on the golf course.
If you miss a fairway, that’s okay because you’re hitting your irons so good you know you can still hit the green. When you miss the green and dump it in the bunker, that’s okay because you’ve been spending hours practicing sand shots and you know you can smoothly get it up and down. And when the sand shot barely dumps on the green and ends up twelve feet from the hole, that’s okay because you know you’re putting great and that you’ll make a good run at it.
Each of these “relax points” creates the possibility that ultimately you will easily beat the stats on twelve-foot putts. And if you don’t, that’s okay because you’ll make birdie on the next hole…and a whole lot more after that one.
Phil missed the cut because he didn’t have that feeling.
But someone who does have that feeling is Webb Simpson. He leads the tournament at 9-under after shooting a bogey-free 4-under 66 Friday. And a 65 Thursday. You know the saying, “He’s feeling it?” Clearly Simpson is.
But the guy who was really feeling it on Friday was Tour rookie, Charlie Beljan. He shot 8-under 62 with a bogey. He described it as the best day of his career. CBS announcer, Peter Kostis, described how he helped contribute to his better play. Because Beljan is 6′ 4″ tall, he played with longer shafts. Because of the longer shafts, the lie of the club had to be bent more upright so that the sole of the clubhead sat flush on the ground.
But that upright lie caused him to hook the ball unless he made swing adjustments. And those swing adjustments took him away from his natural swing that had been pretty effective until the club adjustments. So Kostis told him to go to shorter shafts, get the lie back to standard and lo and behold, in time, the guy shoots 62 and sits T2.
Over at the U.S. Open, the tough Pete Dye-designed, Blackwolf Run, is keeping a lid on scoring.
The leader is Suzann Pettersen who is only at 5-under. She attributed her 68 to making an hour mistake in setting her alarm:
I thought it was awfully light in the room when I woke up, at 6:40, an hour late. I don’t know. I looked at the alarm clock, and I think instead of putting it 5:45, I put it for 6:45. I cut breakfast short and went straight to the green. Can’t wait for a shower now.
For me breakfast is kind of my most important meal. I didn’t really have time. I thought it was more important to get stretched and loosened up. Even though it’s hot. It’s fine. Sometimes that’s a good thing. You don’t have time to think about stuff.
Michelle Wie didn’t have too much time to think about stuff either. She was too busy shooting 66 because she couldn’t miss a putt. After slugging away at 35 putts on Thursday, she realized that she had stopped thinking of herself as a good putter. Friday she only had 23 putts, she’s one stroke behind Pettersen and will be paired with her in the final group Saturday.
Thursday, Cristie Kerr talked about willing herself to stay in a round rather than capitulating to the inevitable bogeys. And she did it again Friday:
Just a very important round for me. One that said I wanted to keep up that consistency, and I did that today. Even though I had some adversity in the middle of the round, I was able to bounce back from that.
In the immortal words of Ken Kesey’s, iconic logging patriarch, Henry Stamper, “Never give a inch.” Kerr is at 4-under too, and will be paired with “The Elegant Sandra Gal” who is at 3-under.
Lexi Thompson had quite a day. Although she shot 1-over, she did it in such a dominating way that the field will be very wary of her getting her two bad swings out of the way.
And after shooting even par, Yani Tseng lurks just seven shots out of the lead. With her length and talent, anything is possible. But with four each of birdies and bogeys, she’ll really have to erase all doubt from her mind about which way the ball is going.
Anyway, these are just some of the stories to set up Saturday’s round. And there are a whole bunch more.
The men are on CBS and the women are on NBC. And whichever you chose, you gotta record the other one. This is all just too good.