Friday, January 20, 2017

Winning is Rare

Winning is rare in golf.  Justin Thomas just won three of his first five starts this year.  Let's put that into perspective.  Last year, only two guys won three times and they were one and two in Fedex points; Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.  If you look back at the last few years on either the PGA or LPGA tours, you'll find that the leading money winners win only 15-20% of their starts.

Unlike other sports, such as tennis, basketball or football where there is a clear winner and loser at the end of the day, golf has one winner and this week at La Quinta, CA there will be 155 losers.  If you're one of the 155 players who don't hold the trophy and the huge check at the end of the week, how do you evaluate your play?  As a pro, it's pretty easy.  You make the cut and get paid or you don't.  Every guy you beat allows you to get paid more.  Every guy you allow to beat you cuts into your pay.  The idea that every shot you hit is important is very clear.  The first tee shot of the tournament counts the same as the final putt tapped in.

If you're a junior or college golfer, this idea is sometimes a bit more cloudy.  In a junior tournament, a bad shot, a big hole or a rough round will hurt your finish and keep you from winning.  Does it really matter if you finish 20th or 30th?  How hard to you grind to climb the leader board with no hope of winning?  How much does it matter if you beat that guy who was two shots ahead of you going into the final round?  Does one shot matter in the big picture?  YES!

The mental habits you form as a junior are the same ones you'll carry with you to the college game and onto the tour.  Giving up on your prospects after a disappointment means you're clearly in the past.  The ability to give your best to each shot you face is the simplest goal in the game and one of the toughest to accomplish.  If you're in the past beating yourself up for the snowman you took on the par 5 back there, you've left the competitive mode and you're now in mourning over what isn't happening.  Competitors are players who learn to accept their past, focus on what is in front of them and do what they can with what they have.  The sooner you think of yourself as a competitor instead of a golfer, the better off you'll be as a player.

Justin Thomas wins reflect not only his physical game right now, but also his focus and competitiveness.  He doesn't lead in birdies or bogey avoidance.  He's had 32 bogies so far this year, so his game doesn't reflect perfection.  However, his lack of perfection isn't what defines his play so far.  Instead, it's his ability to stay the course.  He didn't relax after a win.  He didn't play more aggressively when in the lead.  He didn't protect his lead in the final round last week, but instead shot 65.  He simply did his best with every shot he faced.

Winning is rare, but you'll get much closer to accomplishing it if you simply do that one thing.  Let go of results on the golf course.  Forget about analyzing your day, your problems or your missed shots!  Turn your brain off and play!  See it, feel it and hit it.  Be visual, athletic, rhythmic, positive and most of all compete!  Give that next shot all you have.

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