Patience is a virtue
Tournament golf hits different. The excitement before the round, the attachment to results. The expectations change and it’s just impossible to treat it like just another round of golf.
Being a multi-sport athlete I’ve always found that performing under pressure in golf is harder than just about any other endeavor. In soccer, things are reactionary. Of course I still get nervous before a game, but when everything is moving fast it’s hard to stop down and question whether you are capable of hitting the exact lace on your shoe. You just do it.
But golf… man. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood over a 2.5 foot putt and second guessed whether I was capable of getting it in the hole. A thought I would never have playing a casual round with my buddies and yet in a tournament your mind goes to places you’d never go. Conquering those demons is the great reward of tournament golf.
This last week I got revved up to play in a US Am Tour tournament at The Tribute Golf Links in The Colony, TX. I was particularly excited to play this tournament because it’s a course I’ve played well with my lowest tournament round of -2. And my lowest 9 holes in a tournament at -4. I have good memories. However, this round also comes with additional pressure as I’m trying to qualify for the US Am Tour National Championship. Last year was the first year I’ve missed it in 10 years as I didn’t play enough to qualify. This year I have limited events which ramps up the pressure to play well.
More expectations, more pressure.
I pulled up to the golf course and got out of my car to be met with some pretty healthy winds. The course is a links style course on Lake Lewisville and there isn’t much to block the wind. This was going to be a tester. Having played a lot of golf in West Texas, I welcome the wind. I know how to play in it which can be a significant advantage vs those that get frustrated by it.
I debated changing putters for this particular round. After years of using my Nike Method 004… a face balanced blade, I had been practicing with a Scotty Cameron notchback that has felt great in the studio, but in just a few minutes of putting on the practice green I felt lost with the Scotty. I could feel the head moving all over the place and decided to go the safe route and put the Nike back in the bag. Foreshadowing here…. But I introduced doubt into putting prior to the round with lack of commitment to a club.
I finished a really good warmup on the range. I’ve been hitting the ball great lately and I’m ready to go.
The first and 18th holes at Tribute are a mock-up of St Andrew’s with a huge shared fairway that should be impossible to miss even on a bad and today is no different. I pipe a drive down the middle into position A.
It’s the second shot that is tricky. Over the bern into a stiff wind. Only 107 yards left to a front pin that is only a few paces off the front edge. I watch one playing partner nuke it over the back of the green and one playing partner come up a yard short in the water.
I pull my 9 iron. My 145 yard club to go 108 yards. The back edge of the green is a little over 130. But I trust that there is wind there and hit a little flighted 9 iron that lands 20 feet past the pin. Safe. Exhale. At least until I see the putt.
The putt is straight downhill, down grain, downwind. A screamer. I’m not entirely sure I can keep this on the green. I opt to leave the pin in and if I could have put the cover back on my putter before hitting the ball to soften the blow… I would have. Instead I take the most delicate stroke I could and watch the ball funnel towards the hole… dead center. But the ball rattled off the pin to settle a good 3 feet from the hole. Is it possible to be disappointed and ecstatic at the same time?
If I pull the pin before the putt… i think it drops. If I were have to miss the hole… it might have rolled off the green.
Easy par. Actually is the best score in my group. Tough hole.
I’ll spare you the play by play, but I grind out another great par on the tough second and just miss birdie on the par 5 third. Even through 3 in really tough conditions. Everything is going according to plan.
On the 4th hole, after another piped drive, i find myself with 170 to the hole. Dead into the wind I am going to hit a punch 5 iron. After seeing my playing partners spray it all I’ve the place I don’t quite commit to it and hit a bladed pull into the green side bunker.
This is where golf takes patience. Lack of commitment has put me in a tough spot. I’d had the right club. Now I have a tough bunker shot from 30 yards to a back pin and I hit an absolutely beauty. The ball softly lands 2 feet from the hole and slowly skirts by… until the wind gusts. The ball trickles and trickles and trickles. Okay. 13 feet for par. Graze the edge. Bogey.
I can live with bogeys. It’s the doubles that are tough to rebound from.
I make a couple easy pars despite lackluster wedges on the next couple. I’m playing well. Golf is easy right now. Managing the nerves. Just doing my job.
I make a silly bogey on 7 from inside 70 yards. Just lack of commitment on the dormant Bermuda lie and I bladed it over the green to a tough spot. I’m 2 over which is just a stroke back from the lead in my group. The course is playing tough.
I lip out a birdie on 8 before getting to the 9th tee box. The 9th is a relatively easy par 5 that with a right to left wind should be reachable.
It’s at this moment that course management beat me. I’m in cruise control playing the course like I’ve always played it, however they’ve made some changes. Normally on this tee shot you want to keep it left to shorten the hole and have a better angle… the right is typically dangerous with high fescue that can eat a ball if you’re not careful. However, on this day the fescue had been cut down. There is very little grass at all in the rough to stop a ball or impede a shot. There is very little penalty for hitting it in the rough and the right side is particularly safe on the day.
I failed to notice this. What that also means is that there is no longer higher grass on the left to protect a ball from going out of bounds. This never even crossed my mind as an option. I love a right to left wind because I can swing really hard without worrying about the block off the planet and I put a little extra into this one.
Halfway down in my backswing I can feel my right foot start to slip on the dormant bermuda and I know I am in trouble. Miraculously I manage to hit the center of the club face but with my right foot being on roller skates, I tried to save the clubface with my hands and this ball is hammered… but turning left.
It lands in the fairway like a hare running from a dog and takes two big hops left through the mowed fescue.
I reluctantly hit a provisional down the right hand side and start praying something slowed my ball down. It was a good drive! I certainly don’t deserve to be out of bounds… but golf is not a game of deserve and it is out of bounds by 6 inches.
Now I could start dog cussing my luck at this point and pout. But I know golf is a game of patience. Just stay in it.
My provisional is on the right side of the fairway roughly 220 yards out. I’m hitting my 4th shot on this par 5. Right to left wind I hang this out about 15 yards right of the green and watch it draw back taking a peek at the hole as it rolls to a stop about 14 feet from the hole. A chance to save par after going out of bounds? Now that’s a good story… but it just slides by and it’s a ‘good bogey’ or a second ball birdie. There is a big difference between +1 and +3 at the turn in an 18 hole event and that slip on the tee was costly.
Now I’m +3 at the turn and it’s certainly no time to panic as I’ve struck the ball great. I’m just not scoring. The leader is at +1 so I’m only 2 strokes back with a lot of golf to play. Patience is a virtue.
Even with the penalty off the tee on 10, I've driven the ball well only losing 0.8 strokes to a PGA Pro. My irons and putting have been solid for me. Just need to start translating to scores. While I haven't made anything with the putter through 9 holes... I also haven't had many good opportunities due to the wind. Hard to get it close.
The 10th hole can play tough for me, but after two okay shots, I have just over 20 feet for birdie. Not even a difficult putt. But in some kind of carry over hangover type of way… I put my worst stroke of the day on the putt. Just uncommitted, unfocused. The ball just kind of wanders up to around 3 feet on the slightest of side slopes.
One of those uncomfortable short putts and as I walk up to hit the putt… the demon steps in…
“You’re going to miss this putt.”
Patience is a virtue. I decide to mark and wait my turn so that I can get back focused on the task at hand. Keep grinding. It’s windy. The course is difficult today. Two strokes is nothing to make up. I like the way I’m playing.
I step into the putt. Just left center and firm. But as I take the putter back, that demon is still on my shoulder. I hit it just a touch softer than my read called for and I watch as it catches the low side of the hole and lips out. Tap in bogey. Three putt from 20 feet.
Exhale. That is giving away strokes, welcome to tournament play. Now I’m 3 back and +4. My patience is being tested.
The next hole is a 180 yard par 3 directly back into the wind. The pin is back on a crazy small tier and this hole will play tough. I watch all three of my playing partners miss the green badly before stepping in. I’m good at these shots. Just a punchy flighted 4 iron. Anywhere on the green is good. A par gains strokes here. This hole will average well over par.
I step up and hit a great shot. Right at the flag. Climbs halfway up the tier to the flag before rolling backwards to rest about 30 feet from the hole. It’s a great shot.
Now I watch the leader try to get on the green. Flubbed chip. Flubbed chip. Trying to hit a flop shot off of dormant Bermuda to a tight pin isn’t going well. I’m going to gain shots on this hole. Get back in the tournament. Eventually he gets it on the green and will have a decent look for a double bogey.
Time to focus. A par gets me two strokes… and at this point I am too focused on where I stand in the tournament. I’m no longer just playing golf. I haven’t played many tournaments lately and this is undisciplined. My putt may only be 30 feet, but it is up a very large up-slope and as I’m standing over it my last thought is to not crush it off the green and waste the opportunity… So instead, I hit it entirely too soft and if I’m being honest I am extremely lucky the ball doesn’t roll back to my feet. I have a 9 foot par putt that just catches the lip and slides by. A second three putt bogey in a row. Damnit Dallas. Missed opportunity.
A hard fought par with a long putt on the next hole. A good look at birdie slides by on the next two and I’m just treading water. With opportunities to gain… I’m just surviving. One last stretch of holes to make a push. I’m not out of the tournament. Patience.
The 15th hole is a par 5 back into the wind. Typically reachable in two, but today it’s a 3 shotter. I do my job and get on the green, but with a back pin I can’t get particularly close into the wind. 30 feet for birdie up the hill. I hit an average putt and it dries up a little over 3 feet short.
Now this should be an easy clean up. Easy par. But tournament golf does funny things to your brain and I got distracted. Not by the difficulty of the putt. It wasn’t difficult. I got distracted because the tournament leader hit his third over the green and after an awful chip, he is going to make bogey. I have a chance to gain a shot. Sitting at +5 I have a chance to get back within 3 of the lead with some tough holes to play. But rather than focusing on the putt, my mind is all over the place doing score calculations, how much golf is left, do I have enough time. I step into the putt and I’m not even sure if it hits the hole. My read was all wrong. I expected the putt to drift left and it didn’t. Pretty sure I pushed it as well, but its all a blur and since I forgot to replace the SD card in my GoPro… I haven’t had any video since the 11th hole… 3 putt bogey. My third of the back 9.
I beat myself on my back hard with the putter.
“Come on Dallas. This isn’t your first rodeo. You know better. Just play your game.”
I know better than to be reactionary. In a tournament you’re never playing just one person and I had become so hyper focused on catching who I thought was the leader that I distracted myself from controlling what I could control. I’ve wasted several opportunities now and while it’s hard not to start feeling sorry for myself, I’m a grinder. I’ve got more left. I still like the way I’m hitting it. Just not scoring.
After a good drive… position A on 16. Pin is tucked right, there is a backstop behind the pin. I have a great angle. I can hit a 56* past the hole, it should come back and snuggle. Just execute.
And I do. The shot comes off just as I envisioned. It lands 10-15 feet past the flag, catches the slope and works its way to the hole scaring it on the way by before resting just 5 feet from the hole. Finally, a great look after an almost 2.
With the wind being strong all day, close birdie looks have been hard to come by. Through 16 holes I’ve only had 3 looks inside 10 feet and this is my best by far. A great time for it. The leader has a tough slider left to save par. I should get one and maybe two strokes if I can hole this putt. This ain’t over.
The putt isn’t incredibly difficult, but it does slide. It should break left to right. With pace it’s a left edge putt. Anything less and it’s outside the hole. I’ve missed a couple putts low so I decide to hit this one firmly on the left edge. I’m not taking no for an answer.
I step into the putt confidently and hit it… But I push it slightly. The putt starts at the middle of the hole and drifts low. Catches the left edge with way too much pace and rolls out to 3 feet. Now I’m hot. Wasting a good ball striking round in the wind. I don’t even line up or read the come backer. I just step in, one footed and as I take the putter back that little demon lands on my shoulder again.
“You’re going to miss this putt”.
It’s too late to stop. Never get the 3 footer online and doesn’t even touch the hole. A three putt bogey from 5 feet. It’s over.
I’m spent. I’m out of patience. +7. If you’re counting that is 4 three putts on the back 9. Kind of set myself up for that with the putting doubt before starting the round. What was I thinking? Going to change out the putter I’ve used for years in a tournament round? Just because? My strokes gained putting has been solid with the Nike. Damnit Dallas.
Patience is a virtue and I am not proud of this, but I ejected after missing the birdie putt on 16. I was mentally and physically exhausted. This was a 5 hour round in the wind and I was walking and pushing my own bag.
17 is a disaster. Blocked tee shot, have to punch out of the trees left handed, then air mail a 6 iron over the green… It’s a triple bogey and honestly I don’t care. I’m just ready to start the long drive home. I hate getting to this point. I’ve worked hard on mental game and grinding… but this round broke me down.
I manage an ugly par on the easy 18th to shoot a solid 82 (+10). I tuck my tail between my legs and duck out berating my lack of ability to stay present during the round.
Thats tournament golf. It’s a grind. It can get you out of your element. I continued to beat myself up as that triple bogey was costly. I finished 10th in my flight which is a testament to how difficult the day was. A par there would have jumped me into 5th place and earned a ton of points towards qualifying for the National Championship.
A lot of scratch players failed to break 80. The winning score was 74 which while it sounds like a mile away… it wasn’t. Eliminate 3 putts (4 strokes). Eliminate the out of bounds ball (2 strokes). Eliminate the triple on 17 after I had mentally quit (3 strokes)… I shoot a 73… All right, every round has the ifs and buts… But my 3 putts were all inside 30 feet. Thats a no-no. My OOB ball was a foot slip. Unlucky with an aggressive target. It was doable.
So I take the positives. I’ve been working on mental game and this is just a reminder that in addition to the physical, you have to stay present to play great golf. Additionally, I have to work on my putting. When the greens are fast and difficult I'm just not getting my speed right. Leaving myself too many testers. With PAR Golf, I know where to spend my time.
My next tournament is Sunday. Lets go, lets go.