There were a lot of good results to chose from Sunday.
I could have written about Fred Couples winning the Senior British Open at Turnberry by two strokes over journeyman Gary Hallberg whose career has been resuscitated by his arrival on the Champions Tour.
I could have written about Inbee Park winning the Evian Masters in France by two over Karrie Webb and Stacy Lewis. It was her first win since she won the U.S. Open four years ago.
But my attention was drawn to Scott Piercy knocking off William McGirt and Robert Garrigus by one shot in the Canadian Open.
McGirt is a sympathetic character because last year he was sweating his way through the last regular tournament of the year, waiting to see if his finish was high enough to get him into the Top-125 players and the playoffs (it was). With this T2, he has locked up his card for next year and is in the playoffs. He seems to marvel that he’s getting as close as he is to winning his first tournament.
The ball-crunching Garrigus is always interesting because of the way he fundamentally changed his life with the discovery of religion. Instead of the darkness, there is a transformed man who is bright and cheery and walks around during the tournament thanking the volunteers for their work. His T2 was because his technique with his long putter inexplicably broke down; he was suddenly holding it incorrectly. Were it not for that, his prodigious ball-striking was so good, he thought he should have won.
But my interest is on the hero of the day, Scott Piercy, for a number of reasons. (1) He was the 18 and 36-hole leader, (2) he managed not to get distracted by reaction to his out of context comments that the course forced “boring golf,” (3) he won, and finally, (4) in his comments were some pretty good descriptions of just how deeply invested Tour players are in their playing mental states.
With Piercy in the clubhouse tied with McGirt and with a one-shot lead over Garrigus, they needed to make putts on 18 to get into a playoff, a two-putt for McGirt and a birdie for Garrigus. Neither could:
Just watching the ending, was that nerve wracking at all or were you at peace with yourself or what?
You know what, these guys are so good that you have to think that they’re going to make the putt. And you have to prepare yourself to go to a playoff, and you have to prepare yourself to go win the playoff. So in my mind you’re still in a grind mode even when you’re sitting in the clubhouse.
You know, obviously when we heard it on the radio that Garrigus missed before we saw it on TV. So it was kind of like what do I think? You know, it’s still just — it takes a while to hit you, but you’re definitely excited and kind of let your guard down a little.
How did you handle yourself today after you made those four birdies and kind of got up into the lead? Did you keep track of what was going on behind you?
I had a little bit of an idea. There was a scoreboard on 8 or 9. 9 tee. So I knew that they were — if you hit some good shots, you can make some birdies around where I did. So I knew they were going to make some birdies as well. And 7, 8, 9, 10, they can be a little dicey, so I knew where I was. Then you got to 12, 13, maybe 14, there was a leaderboard there. So I kind of had an idea of where I was, one shot back pretty much most of the day.
The Canadian Open was Piercy’s second win. The first was the Reno-Tahoe Open, the opposite-field event to the WGC at Firestone in Akron.
Do you feel like you’re getting more comfortable with the bigger stages now, Reno and here this year?
Yeah. You definitely have to work into it a little bit. You know, my play this year has kind of been working in that direction, I think. And obviously when you get in those situations, you know, I was just there two weeks ago [at John Deere]. I had — I was close to winning. I finished third.
So I was kind of in that situation a week ago. And I felt like I handled the situation nerves wise pretty well. I hit some good shots, and I’m starting to get more of a rhythm of what it takes when you’re in those situations to understand and how to get things done. So I do think it’s moving in that direction.
Those were just the contextual quotes. Here are the money quotes for those of us interested in the exploration of mastery:
Coming up 18 with the 10,000 people and so on, was it hard to keep your nerves about you knowing that both William and Robert potentially, you know, had 17 to finish, and it was a good chance that somebody would make birdie there. Did you feel the need to sort of press on that one?
18 is a good hole. You gotta hit two good shots and you gotta hit two good putts to make a par. And you know, in the final group on Sunday when you got some nerves going, you know, McGirt’s first time being there, Garrigus closed the deal before. It’s tough. And you know, so they had a tall task at hand there.
At the same time I’m into what I’m doing. I know that I played as good as I could have. I did my best, and you know, you’re still kind of in a zone when you’re walking up, and you still gotta sign your score card and make sure it’s all right. So you can’t really — like I said earlier, then you have to prepare yourself for a playoff mentally. So you can’t let up.
Can you block the fans out of it? Like I mean can you take that or are you very aware of that?
You know they’re there, but you kind of are in your own little bubble where you block them out because there’s still stuff to get done, and you have to prepare yourself if there is that playoff. You can’t think, oh, yeah, I won the golf tournament. You know, so even sitting in the scorer’s tent for 15 minutes, the whole time I’m preparing myself to play in a playoff. You know, and if I lose to a birdie, then that’s great. He beat me. So you just gotta stay focused until it’s all over.
This, a pretty good description of what’s going one behind those empty-emotion stares when Tour players are in the thick of it. It really is an altered state of being.
The smiles come at the trophy and check presentations when they know it’s a sure thing.