Monday, June 12, 2017

Close Calls and More Progress

I'm playing good golf, and it's really fun! I haven't been able to put enough consistently good play together yet to have a good tournament result, but I'm thrilled with the progress that I am seeing.

After spending the two previous weeks at home working on my game, I had a busy week last week. I played U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying on Monday. 36 holes in Memphis in June can be a draining task, but I relish the physical challenge of it. I felt good heading into the qualifier, and I really played beautifully. For the day, I made nine birdies and three bogeys to post a pair of 68's and a 136 (-6) total. Unfortunately, the last few spots were decided in a playoff at -7 total, so I missed out on a chance to play in this year's U.S. Open by the narrowest of margins.

I know better than to live in the past, but just to emphasize how well I played, I truly have just three regrets from the qualifier. On my 11th hole of the day, I hit two perfect shots on a dangerous par-five and then misjudged a chip and had to settle for par despite being just in front of the green and only 30 feet from the hole in two. Then, on my 27th hole of the qualifier, I again found myself just in front of the green in two on a par five. I hit a nice pitch, but didn't trust my instincts on the read of the putt. I second-guessed myself and missed from five or six feet. I can be completely at peace missing a putt of that distance, but it bugs me that I missed because I over-thought it. Lastly, I got greedy with a wedge shot from the rough on my 32nd hole of the qualifier. I had 130 yards to a front pin from a wispy lie in the first cut of rough. I felt like a pitching wedge would jump a little bit and probably go past the hole, so I tried to hit a hard gap wedge and knock it close. The ball didn't jump at all and I was left with a tough pitch from short of the green to the front pin and made a bogey. With these three exceptions, I was proud of how I played all day at the U.S. Open Qualifier. My putter was a little cold, but I was still in it until the very end, and that feels good.

I was definitely bummed to have nothing tangible to show for my efforts on Monday, but I was confident in the way I was playing. I moved on from the qualifier and turned my attention to one of my favorite events on Tour, the FedEx St. Jude Classic. I restfully prepared for the tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday, and when my early tee time rolled around on Thursday, I felt ready for it.

Then I made a double-bogey six on the first hole of the tournament. I was slightly rattled, but also felt strangely calm and confident. I proceeded to play 17 of my best holes of tournament golf. I drove the ball beautifully, hit some great iron shots, and made a couple of good putts. I turned my double-bogey start into a three-under-par round of 67. It was great!

I still felt just as good when I came out to play on Friday afternoon, but my execution was just a little loose. I narrowly missed the first three fairways, and found myself battling early. I hit a poor iron into the water on the par-three fourth and then watched in disappointment as a good iron shot rolled into a tough spot over the back of the green on the long par-four fifth hole. I made bogey on three of the first five holes but really felt like I had only hit one poor shot. I was still feeling good, but things only got harder for me. After a couple more bogeys, I found myself standing on the 15th tee needing to play well on the last four holes. I responded with my only very poor drive of the week as I toe-hooked a three wood into a creek well left of the fairway. I made a good bogey from there. I felt a strange combination of things walking off that green. I was rattled, disappointed, and worried; yet somehow I felt some calm in there, too. I proceeded to hit two nearly perfect shots into a green-side bunker on the par-five 16th. I hit a great bunker shot to five feet and nervously rolled in the putt. I hit two great shots on the long par-four 17th and lipped out my 15-foot birdie putt. I walked to the 18th hole not knowing if a par would be good enough to make the weekend. I was nervous on the tee and I pushed my drive way to the right (away from the pond on the left around which the fairway bends). I ended with a good lie, but I was 206 yards from the hole. I had a little helping wind and a lot of nervous energy, so I grabbed my five iron and hit a great shot. It landed on the front of the green and released to end up just 12 feet right of the hole. I felt strangely in the zone over the putt and rolled it in for a closing birdie. That felt really good!

I didn't parlay that great finish into a big weekend performance. I actually shot a lousy score on Saturday and ended up missing the Saturday cut. (If more than 78 players make the cut, an additional Saturday cut is used to limit the field so that the tournament can finish within the TV window on Sunday.) I still get credit for a made cut, but it feels yucky to not have the chance to move up on Sunday.

So, again, I am not leaving Memphis with the results that I am looking for, but I feel so great. In small spurts, I'm playing the kind of golf that I feel prepared to play consistently. I'm really excited. I will keep working on things, and I'm going to start playing well consistently.

I have this week off while my peers go battle it out for that U.S. Open trophy. That's okay with me; I'll be there soon! I'm going to work hard and prepare for a fun stretch of events ahead. Great stuff is coming. Keep it here to enjoy the journey with me!

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