Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pain, Change, and Growth

For the most part, I believe that I have a fairly healthy sense of perspective about life and golf's place in it for me. Golf is my career. It is one of my passions. It is very important to me. It is NOT life and death by any means. It doesn't crack the top three of things that are most important to me in my life. Still, it hurts when it doesn't go well and my hard work doesn't produce the desired results.

My last tournament inflicted some pain. Playing at one of my favorite courses on tour (Innisbrook), I played really nicely. Despite being just fractionally off with my driver and having a few things go wrong, I was playing very solidly. I was one under par through 35 holes, and I piped my drive up the par-four ninth hole--my last on Friday. From there, I faced a very inviting shot. I had 148 yards to a back right flag from a great lie in the fairway. I wasn't trying to be too aggressive, but I was definitely trying to give myself a good birdie opportunity. I pushed my iron shot a little bit, but it was flying just right of the pin. Unfortunately, I had misjudged the wind and selected the wrong club. My ball flew past the hole and bounded off the back of the green. From there, I misplayed a pitch shot, hit my first putt too hard, and nervously stroked my three-and-a-half foot bogey putt right of the hole. At the time, it was a bit of a soul-crushing double-bogey. It dropped me from one shot inside of the cutline to missing the cut by one. It was painful.

For a couple days, I wasn't sure how to respond. I've always been good about being intentional with my response to adversity. I have always found something positive--some kind of silver lining that I can take and build from moving forward. This time I must admit that I felt pretty defeated for the days that immediately followed.

That feeling of pain has brought around some needed change, however. The first change was not of my choosing, but it is something about which I am excited. My caddie, Shane, called me on Tuesday evening and told me that he wants to split. I've never blamed Shane for my current slump, and, despite some differences in personality and communication style, I actually have really appreciated the work that he has done for me. It's sad to see our partnership end, but I think he's right that something fresh will be really good for both of us. I'm excited to move forward in that regard.

I don't have a long-term solution to my caddie vacancy yet, but I do know who will be caddying for me in my next event. I'm going to reunite the dream team that worked so well in 2015. Alicia will caddie for me in Houston! Regardless of what I decide to do long term, I am very excited to take the things that I have learned and work to build a caddie relationship that works best for me tactically, mentally, and emotionally. This change will be a positive step forward for me.

Another change that was inspired by the pain I experienced at Innisbrook is a new sense of ownership over the thoughts I'm thinking. I've been feeling tremendous weight bearing down on me lately, and I've been blaming the last 14 months of poor results for causing that weight. I've also been feeling like golf has been difficult and that I can't seem to catch a break. I've been blaming outside things for the feelings of pressure, anxiety, and disappointment I've been feeling. In reality, those feelings are thoughts, and they originate inside of my own head. What I think is a choice, and thinking right is a skill. I have not practiced this skill nearly as much as I've practiced my physical skills lately, and it's time to change that. I control what I think, and my thoughts control how I feel. I'm going to take control of what I think.

I think I'm a great golfer. I think I'm a winner. I think I can go play with freedom and trust.

I certainly know that this isn't the last time I'll ever face adversity or disappointment in golf. I also know that I have the skills, both physically and mentally, to deal with and overcome adversity. I am ready to practice and use those skills.

I'm excited to get after it! I've decided not to play in Puerto Rico this coming week so that I can have another week off to practice my skills and rest up for a big stretch of golf ahead. I'll tee it up in Houston March 30-April 2, and I'll be ready.

Thank you for following and believing in me. Great things are coming. Keep it here to enjoy the ride with me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lowest Score Wins

In nearly every conceivable way, I am better at golf today than I was when I won on the PGA Tour just 16 months ago. I’m a much better swinger of the golf club. I drive the ball more consistently. I’m a better ball-striker. My wedge play is better. I’m more skilled and more comfortable around the greens. I’m more mature. I’m more experienced. Overall, I am simply a better golfer now than I have ever been.

Yet my scores haven’t been good lately. I’ve struggled to post consistently good scores for quite a while. What’s more, my old penchant for getting hot and posting very low rounds hasn’t come around in quite some time.

So, what gives? How can a better golfer shoot higher scores? I have two answers. The first is simple and the second a bit more abstract.

First of all, I need to putt better. I haven’t felt great about the way I have putted for most of the last 14 months. I’ve been inconsistent, had poor pace, struggled inside of five feet, and, most notably, have not made putts in that mid-range distance (10ft-25ft) where I expect to differentiate myself from my competition. Deep down, I’m still very confident in my ability on the greens. I truly believe that putting is a great strength for me and that it will allow me to stand out on the PGA Tour for the next couple of decades. The key is letting that brilliance flow. To do it, I’m going to re-dedicate myself to practice techniques and drills that have worked for me in the past. Also, I’m going to focus on having fun on the greens and stop putting so much pressure on myself.

The second reason my scores haven’t been good is that I haven’t consistently allowed myself to play with freedom in a long time. I have let a prolonged stretch of sub-standard results weigh heavily on me. Each time I tee it up, I do so with a strong desire to “get it right this time.” This causes me to feel anxious and worried, and that is not a recipe for good golf. It is quite the vicious cycle, really. Struggles lead to a stronger and stronger desire to play well, and sometimes that very desire is the biggest challenge. (I told you this was going to be abstract.) It’s tough to nail down a solution to a problem so intangible, but I’m going to do it.

I think it was the late, great Arnold Palmer who once said “golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” I’ve been focusing lately on the endless complications. I’ve been trying so hard to do everything correctly. I’ve been trying to swing properly and make sure I’m strategizing properly. I’ve obsessed about trying to think the right thoughts at the right time. I’ve tried and tried and tried to get all the little details right. I think I’ve worked myself into a bit of an over-thinking nature and that is causing my tension.

So now, I’m ready to focus on the deceptively simple nature of my sport. At the end of the day, it’s no more complicated than this: lowest score wins. I’m going to go out and try to shoot the lowest score. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. It doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t matter what’s on the line or who else is in the competition. Lowest score wins. I’m going to go shoot the lowest score.

Clearly, lots of little things go into producing the lowest score, and I’m not na├»ve to that fact. But here’s the thing: I’m ready. I’ve been working my butt off to have everything in place. It’s time to go play. It’s time to go shoot the lowest score.

I absolutely love what I do, and I’m really excited to keep doing it and start doing it with freedom more consistently. I’m just outside of Tampa Bay, Florida, this week at one of my favorite courses on Tour for the Valspar Championship. I’m going to have a lot of fun this week!

Thank you for following me and for your support. Keep it here for an update from the tournament.

New Blog Site

Hi everyone! Thank you for continuing to try to keep up with me. As you might have noticed, I've not been updating this blog at all late...