Practicing Patience and Interpreting Outcomes Effectively

Embrace the patience and resilience of the pros—learn from every shot and never let one bad hole define your game.

June’s Golf Tip of the Month by Ryan Williams, Woodbridge Player Development Professional

In 2015, I played in the Northern California Open for the first time. Hosted at Bayonet in Monterey, at the time it was the biggest professional event in which I had ever played. I had had a good year playing pro-ams and NCPGA Assistant events, but the Norcal Open would be the first proper mini-tour event or state open of my career. Luckily and happily, I played some good golf and shot four under par for three days including 16 birdies and finished in a tie for 8th place. The winner of that tournament was a San Diego State standout who had just turned pro and shot 65 the last round to finish 12 under par. Impressed by that score, I decided I would keep a casual eye on the winner, a talented pro and current PGA Champion, Xander Schauffele.

In short time, Schauffele became one of the best players in the world, graduating through the tour to earn his PGA Tour card and eventually winning big events like the Tour Championship by the end of his second year as a professional. He was even named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2016-2017. Clearly, he was destined for stardom: a perennial top 10 player since that time, a major championship would obviously soon follow. But, it didn’t. In terms of strokes gained since his rookie year, he has been the best player in the world. Close calls and a few 54-hole leads not converted into wins had a lot of the media saying that he was a great player that simply could not close.

Take the tournament at Quail Hollow before his breakthrough at the PGA Championship in which he led after each of the first three rounds only to be passed by a lights out Rory McIlroy on Sunday. He was even asked by a reporter early in the week at Valhalla if not closing out tournaments bothered him to which he said, “I shot 12 under par and led for a long time on a major championship golf course; the fact that Rory finished at 17 under par doesn’t take away from the golf I played and am capable of playing.” In other words, the “can’t close” narrative was fodder for the media but didn’t at all resemble anything going on in his own mind.

His statement got me to thinking about just how much patience is required to play this game. Phil Mickelson was one of the best players in the world for 12 years before he finally won his first Masters in 2004. Justin Rose was the darling of the golf world when he finished 4th in the Open Championship at 17 years old in 1998; he wouldn’t win a major until 2013 or become world #1 until 2018-19. It took Xander 8 years to get his first major. What occurred to me is that these remarkable individuals do not allow results to change their opinions of their ability, at least not in the long term. When a great player hits a poor shot, they take on an attitude of “Look how good the next one is going to be,” rather than wasting time punishing themselves. Perhaps it’s not what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens to us.

  • Let’s look at common turning points in careers or a single round/tournament:
  • Never make large scale changes or react to one tournament or round of golf. You probably haven’t changed that much physically especially if you’ve been playing well before that. Consult with your coach, go back to your checklist, and move on.
  • One bad shot is not a trend. Players often ruin their round after one bad shot, especially if it’s that certain shot that gets under their skin. Great players hit bad shots. Accept it and move on.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others, I mean, never do it. If you play as well as you ever have and finish middle of the pack, you should be happier than playing mediocre and achieving a high finish. Always put your improvement first.
  • It’s common to look back at a round that got away from you and realize there was a moment where, if you had just relaxed, you could have stopped all of the damage that followed your change of attitude. Often it happens when a player has a great round going then makes one bogey or double. You will never play a round without some level of adversity. Embrace it and move on.
  • One shot or round does not define the style of your golf game. Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are unbelievable drivers of the ball but even they have rounds when they spray it. PGA Pro who played in the PGA Championship, Brad Marek, is a great iron player but in our most recent round together hit several uncharacteristic poor irons in a row. With no change in emotion, he got up and down for par each time and seemed to enjoy doing it. The poor iron shots were not an indictment of this ability with those clubs.

These are just several examples of the super power all great players seem to have. Whatever happens to them, they seem to interpret the event in the best way possible. In Xander’s case, he didn’t allow a lack of wins to distract him from the quality of golf he was playing. For you, it may not be a major championship but whatever barrier you are trying to break down, the lessons learned from the people mentioned in this month’s article can serve all of well. Most of the time, they are lessons we continue learning our entire golfing lives.

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