This morning I read an article by the Golf Channel’s Jason Sobel, titled “Why not scale back to focus on first win?” The article premised around a theory of “peaking” in professional golf and the idea for Tour pros in search of their 1st career win to gear up for a few regular Tour events the way Tiger, Phil, Rory and co. gear up for major championships. While I read Jason’s thoughts – as well as quotes from a handful of Tour players – the hamsters began running in my mind.
My first thought was that I loved the idea. Tiger and the other cast of elite players players focus for major championships unlike any other events during the season. They travel to major venues in the months leading up, playing upwards of 10 practice rounds before competition commences. They work specifically on elements of their game they will need to perform well at each particular venue. Equipment changes are made. Sessions with mental coaches are centered around these pinnacle events. It’s all in an effort to bolster their career resumes and add major championships to their list of credentials.
Thus far, it seems to be working, for some of the guys – Tiger Woods (14), Phil Mickelson (5), Ernie Els (4), and Rory McIlroy (2), but what about the others? Obviously there are top echelon players who haven’t converted in this category, despite employing the strategy of increased focus. Perhaps, it’s because of this strategy.
Coaches who help PGA Tour players with the mental side of the sport, often talk about level of importance and the effects it can have. They encourage their athletes not to add value or importance, because this often times impedes their ability to hone in on the aspects of their game’s they can control – i.e. concentration, focus pertaining to the shot at hand, the current elements, etc. Doing this will often times shift a golfer’s focus away from the process and gear it more towards the result. Every shot should have equal importance. The upcoming shot is the most important shot.
A specific example of this is Sergio Garcia after the 2007 British Open. His post-round comments were quite pessimistic regarding his finish. It was the best run he’d made at a major since ’99 against Tiger at the PGA, but he was so wrapped into the result, he wouldn’t allow himself to relish in the positives. I understand disappoint, but he had a putt to win, hit a great putt and lipped it out. In interviews conducted in the months/years after, Sergio’s outlook of the ’07 Open improved drastically. Perhaps he was able to look at the event more subjectively, but it can’t be ignored the effect added importance had. If this was the McGladrey, I can’t imagine Sergio would have reacted the way he did.
Placing a higher level of importance on particular events has its effects. It skews perception. In Jason’s article, I think he is referring to players doing more of their “homework” on non-majors to get over the hump and learn how to win. With that, I completely agree, but I caution the notion of ramping up their focus.
Pressing in golf rarely yields results. Tiger’s been pressing in majors since 2008. Rory’s been pressing since he put his new Nike’s in the bag. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, and Sergio have been placing precedence in majors since they reached the top of the game. Results come naturally – from consistency in attitude and outlook. I’m not sure how placing utter focus on the Zurich Classic will unfold for players in search of win #1. Maybe it would work?
It’s worked before. Players win in their comfort zones. For years, players have certain “home” events or “personal 5th majors”. For Midwestern guys Zach Johnson and Steve Striker, the John Deere Classic is a safe haven. They’ve played phenomenal golf in the Quad Cities. What about Mike Weir in Canada? His track record is exceptional north of the border (win in ’99, playoff in ’04, President’s Cup success in ’07’). Ryan Moore won in his hometown of Las Vegas in 2012 at the JT Shriners. There are plenty of examples.
It makes me curious though, what level of success can be traced back to increased focus and what can be traced simply to familiarity of an area/course and culture? Maybe the key lies in gaining a comfortability with a specific event. A feeling that you know that event better than any of the other players in the event.
Maybe that’s exactly the point Jason Sobel is making.