2015 Goals

Monday, September 19, 2016

The 2015-2016 Season in Review

I have had a chance to look back over my 2015-2016 season as a whole and discuss it with my team. Two things that jump out right away are that I won a tournament and I qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Those are two great accomplishments, and I am happy and proud of both of them. Those accomplishments show that I have really raised the ceiling on my golf ability. When I deliver my good stuff, I am a better player than I have ever been. Another thing that jumps out when reviewing my year is that I didn't deliver my good stuff nearly often enough. After compiling three top-ten finishes in a four-tournament stretch from late in the year 2015 through the opening event of 2016, I rarely contended again. It made for a very frustrating and disappointing 2016 part of the 2015-2016 season. I know that the really good golf was still inside of me during that time, but it got locked in there for much of this year. I've now had some really good time to reflect on the season, and I have some reasons that I believe that happened. I'm still incredibly proud and happy about my accomplishments this season, but I'm ready to take some steps to make sure that the good golf that is inside of me is able to come out more often in tournaments.

First of all, I need to remember why I play golf. After my win and stretch of good golf early in the season, I let my expectations go high in the sky. I was thinking about Fed-Ex Cup rankings, World Rankings, and qualifying for big tournaments. Those things are all great, but none of them are why I play golf. I play golf because I love it. I love to work at it. I love to compete. I love the challenge of fighting through a rough stretch and constantly improving. I love to play. That's why I play golf. I want all those other things to happen--to climb the rankings and play the big tournaments--but mostly, I want to lay my head on the pillow at night and say I loved my job and I did my best. When I approach each day with that in mind, my best golf will be unlocked.

I also need to continue to nurture my strengths. I'm a great putter, and my putting is something that sets me apart from my competition. Though I had an okay season statistically with my putter, I know that I developed a bit of a flaw in my putting stroke that affected my consistency. I believe that I can putt much better than I did this season, and if I take the time to do a quick mechanical check of my putting stroke at the beginning of the day, I can know that my stroke is in great shape and can trust my genius on the greens.

I definitely didn't have the type of year I wanted to have from a ball-striking perspective. It is strange because I feel like I am a better swinger of the club now than I have ever been and I hit the ball more solidly this year than I ever have before, but I never consistently hit good shots over the 2016 portion of the season. I know that I am better now mechanically than I was a year ago, but I simply played too much of this season in what I would call "golf swing" mode. In the past I had always been good about practicing my mechanics on the range and then simply trusting my feel on the course. This year I felt that I was so close to having my mechanics where I wanted them that I couldn't quite leave those thoughts on the range. I ended making swings on the course that weren't fully trusting what I was trying to do, and that led to a lot of inconsistency. It's important for me to note that I don't regret anything about the work I did this year. My swing is better now than it has ever been. I learned this year that it is very important for me to separate mechanical work from the art of playing the game on the course. I tried to mix the two a little too much this year. I'm going to keep getting better mechanically, but I'm also going to "own" whatever swing I have that day when it's time to tee it up in competition. This will help unlock the good skills that I have worked hard to develop.

I'm not going to go into huge detail about my statistics, but I have made an effort to understand stats better in the first few weeks of the off-season. I now understand the "Strokes Gained" stats that the Tour publishes. They are a quantifiable measure of a player's performance relevant to the field average at each event. Strokes Gained stats paint a more accurate picture of a player's performance than traditional measures such as fairways hit, greens in regulation, or number of putts. With the help of my caddie and Mark Broadie--the creator of the Strokes Gained statistics--I have studied my stats. I wasn't surprised to see that my ball-striking numbers left a lot to be desired--I lost more than a half a shot per round off the tee and more than another half a shot per round approaching the green--but I was quite surprised to see that inconsistencies in my short game led to a negative overall number in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, too. My putting stats were positive, but I don't feel like I putted well this year, so I'm excited to see them be even better in the coming years. If I can progressively work my Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green number back towards neutral (I was -1.143 strokes per round in that category in 2015-2016) and keep improving my putting, I'm confident that I can contend consistently on the PGA Tour.

I feel so encouraged when I look back over my second season on Tour! I did have some really good accomplishments, but I also have tremendous room for improvement. I can improve my mental game, my putting, the consistency of my short game, and my ball-striking. I have a great plan to attack these needed improvements, and I'm excited about it. As I prepare to move forward with my career, I'm truly going work in such a way that I can always say I loved my job and I did my best. I know that will be enough.

Thank you for following and please keep it here for another off-season update in which I'll discuss some of the work that I am doing to prepare for the 2016-2017 season.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Back to the Blog

To the many of you that follow my blog and keep up with me through this medium, I say thank you! I'm sorry that it has been nearly two months since my last post. During what was a long and at times frustrating 2016 schedule, blogging seemed burdensome at times and a bit of a distraction as I tried to get back in touch with the things that allow me to be my best. But now, after finishing the 2015-2016 season on an upswing and having already had two weeks away from travel and tournament golf, I am feeling great and am excited to share my off-season thoughts and plans. I'm going to get back into a good habit of using my blog because just as much as it is a fun way for several of you to keep up with me, it is also a great tool to keep me grounded, focused, and accountable. So, thank you for caring and for following me, and keep it here for some off-season updates in the coming days and weeks.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Major Disappointment

Time to take some inventory. I played my first Major Championship this week. That is a good thing. I had to do something special to earn the right to be in the PGA Championship. I can't forget that I won on the PGA Tour last Fall. That was less than a year ago. And it was very good.

I missed the cut this week in my first Major. I posted consecutive rounds of 73 for a six-over-par total and finished four shots outside the cut. This marks my tenth consecutive missed cut and 17th in my last 18 events. That is bad. I presently feel far-removed from the celebration of the win that qualified me for my first major. I feel beaten up, and it feels very bad.

If I were to trust everything that I feel, I would be in trouble right now. I feel beaten up. I feel bruised and battered. I feel like I'm failing. These are the things that I presently feel. Here are some things that I know, even if I can't feel them right now. I know that I am a PGA Tour winner. I know that I am continuing to work on the right things in my golf game. I know that my process leads to steady improvement, and that my best golf is still ahead of me. I know that I will continue to get better. I know that I will come out of this slump. I know that I have a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Most importantly, I know that results on the golf course don't define me as a success or failure. I may not be able to feel all of these things right now, but I know they are true.

I'm definitely bummed, but I've got too much good stuff going on to sulk. First of all, I have an amazing wife, family, and team of supporters who love me and are there for me exactly the same whether I've just won a tournament or just missed my 17th cut in 18 weeks. Secondly, even though the results don't show it, I really am working on the right things and improving my golf game. I can't exactly explain what's going on with my tournament play. My practice feels better and better each week, and I feel like all areas of my game are ready to excel. I'm hitting the ball more solidly than ever on the range, and I'm really starting to control it well, too. My putting was definitely off at the beginning of this slump, but my stroke feels good again, and I'm starting the roll the ball really well. My short game and wedge play are both solid. I just need to relax and let it happen. Subconsciously, I know I'm putting added pressure on myself to end this slump and get back in the hunt on the weekend, and I find myself playing with a lot of tension. It's easier said than done, but I've got to be tough enough to let go of worrying about results and go play with freedom. I'll be honest: I'm not sure how to do that right now, but I'm going to figure it out. I've got too much talent, and my game is rounding into form too well to allow myself to continue to play with tension.

I usually have a specific action plan for how I'm going to make things happen. Right now, I really don't. I'm going to keep working hard on my golf game so that it is even more ready to perform in tournament conditions, and I'm going to make the conscious decision to let go of results and play with freedom. When I truly play with freedom and let the good golf that is in me come out, I'll qualify for a lot more majors.

The tone of this post has been largely negative, and it is coming from a place of great frustration, but I don't want to forget the place it started. I just played in my first Major Championship. That is really cool. And there will be many more; I am confident of that.

I know a lot of you out there are rooting for me and believing in me. I really appreciate it, and I believe in me, too. I'm off to Hartford, CT, now for the Traveler's Championship next week. It is one of my favorite events on Tour, and I'm going to prepare well and play with great freedom. Keep it here for updates!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Disappointing Result but So Much Good in Canada

Dang it! I'm up in Canada this week for the RBC Canadian Open, and unfortunately my tournament has been cut short by a missed cut. This has been one of the most fun tournaments ever for me because dry conditions here in the Toronto area caused the golf course to play fast, firm, and difficult. Every shot presented a challenge and required lots of thinking. It was so much fun and I felt like I played really well, but in the end I just made too many mistakes and left too many opportunities out there. The final results look like I was never close at all as I posted rounds of 73, 79 (+8 total) to miss the cut by six shots, but that is deceiving because I played the final four holes in five over par as I tried a little too hard to make something good happen. I'm saddened and frustrated by another missed cut, but I really do feel like I'm playing good golf again. 

I prepared well for this week's event, and I was ready to handle the tough conditions. I went out confidently on Thursday, and I really played well. I didn't convert on a few good birdie opportunities early in my round, but I was hitting a lot of quality shots and feeling very good. I hit a poor shot into the par-four eighth hole, and many factors came together to turn it into a particularly poor result. I pulled a seven iron out of the rough and under typical conditions, it would have settled just left of the green and left a reasonable up-and-down for par. Instead of that, it hit a burned-out patch of rough left of the green, bounded as if it hit concrete, and ended up forty yards long and left of the green across the club's driveway. It was a poor shot, and I paid for it with a double bogey. Still, I continued to play confidently, and I got things going on the back nine. After making the turn at three over par, I had a chance to get it back to even on the par-five 18th, but had to settle for a par after a poor second shot left of the green. I left my first round pleased with how I was playing and knowing that I was ready to shoot a good score. 

On Friday I began on the back nine, and again, I just had trouble getting anything going. In conditions that were windier and even firmer than the first day, I hit a lot of greens in regulation, but couldn't capitalize with any early birdies. I made my worst swing of the tournament on the 14th tee where I pull-hooked my drive into water left of the fairway, but I battled hard from there to save a bogey. I failed to birdie the reachable par-five 16th and 18th holes, but did make a nice birdie on the 17th, so I made the turn at even par and felt ready to play great on the front nine. I parred the first hole and then stepped to the tee of the par-five second hole. The wind was hard into me and off my right on the dogleg-right hole, so my plan was to hit a low, running fade that shaped with the fairway. I felt like I made a good swing but looked up in amazement to see my ball curving slightly to the left. It landed in the fairway, but bounced and ran some 80 yards through the left rough into the thick tree line left of the fairway. I still don't know why that ball was curving left. I was so committed to hitting a low fade into the wind, and I felt like I executed it well, but nonetheless, it ended up in trouble left, and despite my best intentions from there, I made a double bogey. I still knew I was playing well, and I stayed positive and committed to my plan. I gave myself great birdie putts on each of the next three holes but couldn't convert any of them. I arrived to the tee of the par-four sixth hole knowing I needed to keep giving myself birdie opportunities, and I was determined to do just that. On the sixth, there is a pond through the fairway, but the fairway doesn't run out until 345 yards off the tee down the middle. As a testament to how firm things are, I decided to hit three wood because driver could have reached the water. I smoked a three wood down the left center of the fairway, picked up my tee, and walked over to my bag. I wasn't even watching my shot, and I heard Hunter Mahan, my playing partner, telling my ball to slow down. I didn't know what he was talking about, but he was right. My three wood went some 350 yards through the fairway and into the pond. That was unfathomable to me. I'm still proud of that tee shot. I stayed positive and tried to have a great plan for my next shot, but after dropping, I mishit my wedge a tiny bit and ended up making another double bogey. I never quit trying, and in fact I hit a few really good shots over my final three holes, but I played much too aggressively for the tough conditions and made another sloppy double bogey on the eighth and finished with a bogey.

I believe the 79 I posted was my highest score on on the PGA Tour, but that certainly doesn't define the way I feel about my performance. When I made the turn on Friday, I honestly thought I was going to have a chance to win the tournament by Sunday. I was driving the ball well and swinging confidently, and I felt some swagger coming back with my putter. It is hard to believe that nine holes later I was saddled with a missed cut and the highest score of my PGA Tour career. I'm not going to remember it that way, though. Even in those closing nine holes that went so awry, I still executed most of my shots exactly as I wanted to. I know it is cliche to say this, but I am so close to getting the results turned around. I'm sad to have this weekend off, but I'm excited by what is happening in my game. Good things are coming, and I believe they are coming soon. 

I get to play in my first major championship next week, and I honestly feel like I'm ready for it. It's just another tournament, and my game is ready for that. I'm excited!

Thank you for following me and for all the support. I know it hasn't been the most fun over the past six months, but I'm feeling encouraged and confident. Keep it here to enjoy the journey with me!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Disappointing Result but Encouraged

I still didn't have my best stuff in Alabama at the Barbosol Championship this week. I posted matching rounds of 72 on Thursday and Friday, and my two-over-par total missed the cut by four shots. That stinks, and I hate it. I am definitely ready to get myself back in contention consistently, and though my results weren't close to what I wanted in Alabama, I feel like it was a step in the right direction in several ways. I'm disappointed but also encouraged, and I'm excited to keep moving forward. 

I felt great about my game heading into the tournament. I had prepared well and played really nicely in my practice rounds. I put the club on the ball beautifully for both rounds in the tournament, but I was definitely a little bit off with my direction. I never drove the ball wildly, but I missed several fairways by a little bit, and the bermuda rough was penalizing. Similarly, I hit my irons very solidly, but missed my lines on several occasions and left myself with some difficult up and downs. I was very encouraged by the strike that I was getting on all of my shots, but I need to tighten up my accuracy. 

My short game was pretty good. I was pleased with the way I pitched and chipped the ball. My putting, however, was still just not good enough. When I hit good iron shots to give myself birdie putts in the 10-20 foot range, I could never take advantage of any of them, so it was tough to ever get anything going. I feel good about my putting practice, and I was fairly solid from short range, so I am still encouraged, but I have to be better on the greens.

The most encouraging thing from the week was my attitude. The last several months have been rough on me, and I've been struggling lately with my confidence and my natural happy-go-lucky demeanor on the course. This week I had fun and felt confident nearly from start to finish. I definitely had my back against the wall a little bit on Friday, but I still believed good things were going to happen, and I was enjoying the challenge. Even though the results didn't show it, I feel like my performance in Alabama was a big step in the right direction. 

I actually had things moving in the right direction on Friday. A disappointing three-putt from long range on the tough par-four third hole was my only blemish in the first part of my round, and I made back-to-back birdies on holes nine and ten to get myself under par for the tournament. I hit a slightly uncommitted drive on the par-four 11th and faced a flier lie (so I thought) out of the right rough to a challenging pin on the left side of the green. There is a hazard short, left, and long on the 11th, and I wasn't trying to do too much. I had 146 yards to cover a front bunker that protected the middle of the green, and I thought I had a big flier lie in the right rough. From a similar looking lie on the ninth hole on Thursday, I hit a nine iron that carried 164 yards. Still, with the hazard short, I didn't want to risk hitting a pitching wedge, so I hit a controlled nine-iron. The ball came off the club a little left of where I was aiming but flew right at the flag, and I thought I might have hit it close. Unfortunately, the ball didn't jump out of the lie like I thought it might, and it hit the bank in front of the green and came back into the hazard. I found it in the reeds on the bank of the hazard and it looked quite playable. Unfortunately I swung under the ball and it didn't move. Actually, it did. It fell down into the divot my swing made. From there, I decided to pick up my ball and go back to the fairway to drop. I was rattled, but I kept my composure really well and nearly holed my wedge from the fairway and salvaged a double-bogey. It was hard to imagine that I would make a great up-and-down for a six when my second shot was flying directly at the flag, but I never would have had any of these problems had I only committed to my tee shot a bit more and kept it in the fairway. Still, I definitely had things going in the right direction for a time on Friday, and I made a strong effort to finish strong despite the setback on number 11. 

I still don't like missing cuts, but I'm not discouraged by my results in Alabama. I'm doing lots of things well, and I know that I can sharpen all areas of my game. I'm heading to Toronto next week for the Canadian Open, and I'm excited to keep working and keep playing. 

Thank you for following and keep it here for more updates.

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Next Shot

I have taken a break from a lot of things. I haven't blogged in three weeks. I haven't played a tournament the last two weeks--my first such break since December. Prior to the past two weeks, I had even taken an unintentional break from simply enjoying the fact that I get to live my dream every day. I am definitely ready to get back to doing these things. I'd like to blog more, and I will. I am embarking on a stretch of golf where I might play tournaments the next nine weeks in a row if I want to, and I'm excited about that. Most importantly, I'm ready to get back to realizing and appreciating that I get to live my dream every day. How cool is that! I never want to take a break from that again. 

The past two weeks have been so good for me. When I finished my last tournament two and a half weeks ago, I was feeling frustrated and down on myself. After some very intentional conversations and some great self-reflection, I'm now feel empowered to get back to work and have a lot of fun doing it. 

There are two over-arching ideas that I had allowed to rob some of the joy that I have always found in golf. The first is simply a lack of mental toughness. What I'm trying to do is hard. I compete at the highest level of golf with the best players in the world. It is going to be hard. And I don't want it any other way. I earned the right to play at the the highest level, and I don't want to be anywhere else, so I need relish the challenge that comes along with it. The second is comparing myself to other golfers. I was feeling inferior because I couldn't match areas of other players' games. I know that when I play my game well, I can succeed at the highest level. I want to strive for constant improvement, but I want to be the best version of myself and not try to be anybody else. 

So as I head back out for another stretch of doing what I love, I am going to commit to being tough and being myself. Doing these two things does not guarantee that I will have success every week, but it does give me the best chance to get my best performance out each and every week. 

There it is. That is my reflection on the the past several months. I have learned what I needed to learn, and now it is time to apply the lessons and focus on what I can control: my next shot. I am ready to go do that. And it's going to be fun!

Thank you for believing in me and following my career! Please keep it here for more updates. 

By the way, I am playing this week at the PGA Tour's Barbosol Championship in Auburn, Alabama.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

New Week

I won't try to make up for a long time without a good blog post. I just want to say that after a week off last week and a meaningful start to this week, I am feeling really good in Bethesda, Maryland, for the Quicken Loans National at Congressional Country Club. I wasn't nearly as productive as I wanted to be towards my golf game last week at home, but I do feel rested and refreshed, and I also have a renewed sense of perspective after playing an outing for the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland on Monday. Life is good. My golf game is, too. I'm ready to have some fun and play well. Keep it here for reports from near our nation's capital. Thank you for keeping up with me!