I Won!

 

I won! I actually won! In my first tournament of the year, the GAP Mid-Amateur Qualifier, I shot an even par 69 in incredibly windy conditions to win my first stroke play tournament since college.

One big area of improvement for me this season is my focus and intensity. Last year there were too many times where I was flat and unfocused, which was weird given how much effort I put into the game. But I realized in the offseason that this flatness was a result of having solved the bigger issues I had in the past with excessive anxiety and pressure. Missing that energy was freeing, but it left me looking for another source of energy to drive peak performance in tournament conditions.

This is a common transition that I work on with my clients who have made a lot of progress with their emotions, and I needed to apply those lessons to myself. I’m happy to report that the work I’ve done so far and described in this blog, especially around establishing goals and detailing specific improvements to make, made a notable difference. At no point during the round did I lack focus. Plus, one of my big goals this year is to get into the zone in competition and at one point I for sure I did that.

 

What I Did Well 

On the 16th hole (my 7th hole) I had a 22’ putt for birdie. During the round the wind was consistently blowing 20-25 mph, gusting to 35 mph. It was so strong that it was affected how the ball was rolling on the green. 

With this putt on the 16th hole, I got to watch two players putt before me on the similar line. Watching intently, very sponge-like, I could see the exact moment where the wind rushed up the hill and significantly slowed up the ball. That fed a sense of the adjustment I needed to make on my putt in order to make it. I was locked in as I got over the ball and drained it with perfect speed.

I didn’t stay this locked in throughout the round, however, I did make a number of putts where I correctly accounted for the wind. So my performance level remained high.

Another thing I did really well was not having any technical thoughts over the ball. Frankly, I didn’t even need them behind the ball. I was locked into my decision-making process and although that wasn’t as accurate or well thought out as I’m ultimately aiming for, it was a notable improvement compared to last year. In general, there were only a handful of shots where my decision-making was bad – once in a recovery situation I didn’t make a clear decision about the type of shot I wanted to hit, and a couple of times I hit wedge shots unsure about how to adjust for the wind. 

I also made a number of great par saves, both when I had to get up and down, and when putting from long distance. On a tricky par 3 I had an 85’ foot birdie putt that I left 5 feet short, but drilled it in the center of the cup. 

I knew going into the round that on a day like this, with the wind blowing 25 to 30 miles an hour, that I would have to make a number of short range putts for par and my process was really solid. On the 18th hole (my ninth), I ran a 15 foot birdie putt past the hole by 6 feet. It was downhill downwind and you just couldn’t hit it soft enough. Whenever you run a ball by the hole, if you’re paying close attention, you can see the break. But it’s easy to allow your frustration or dismay from speeding the first putt by the hole to cost you that valuable information. At no point was I down or fearful of missing that putt and knocked it in the center of the hole.

Overall, this was a nice bit of confirmation for the hard work that I put in during the off-season, both on my mental game and on my physical conditioning. The new clubs also made a notable difference in tough conditions, and that also gives me a lot of confidence in them.  

 

Takeaways for the Future

With my biggest tournament of the year up next, the US Open Local Qualifier, I have some specific things that need to improve beforehand. Top of the list is my decision-making process. The most glaring weak point is my lack of attention to detail on where I want the ball to land and how I anticipate it rolling out. 

The par 3 11th hole (my second hole of the day), was playing 185 yards directly downwind. I had an idea of the distance I wanted to hit it, accounting for the wind, but I wasn’t clear about how the ball would react once it hit the green. I hit the shot very close to where I intended, but on the line that I chose, the ball rolled off the green. Not a big mistake, but my lie was incredibly difficult and I failed to get up and down. 

I can’t get away with small mistakes like that in the US Open Qualifier. The course set-up is unforgiving and demands greater precision. I need to raise my level, and be diligent about what I envision for the entire shot, from start to finish, especially where the ball is going to end and how it will react on the green based on my intended shot shape, trajectory and spin. 

The next point of improvement is a bit trickier. During the Philly Mid-am qualifier I knew going in that shooting even par would get me through to the championship. Twenty-two players would make it, and as far as the championship is concerned there is no difference between first and 22nd. On my 16th hole, I was 2 under, and my mind started thinking ahead about posting 2 under. Score occupied more space in my head – especially while waiting to hit a 5 foot par putt…which I missed.

To be fair, I hit the putt exactly as I wanted, I just read it wrong, which feels like more of an indictment on the subtle loss of focus while reading the putt vs. hitting it poorly or tentatively. 

I shook it off quickly because the 17th (the actual 8th hole) was a difficult hole that was playing incredibly hard. 450 yard uphill par four with wind blowing hard right to left, out of bounce left, trees right and a creek at 290 yards off the tee. I refocused and hit one of the best shots of the day, piping it down the right side of the fairway. But as I walked off the green having made another 6’ par putt, the reminder that I was one under came back into mind. I hit a solid tee shot, but again before my approach shot and the 60’ birdie putt, thoughts of score limited my ability to execute and after lipping out the par putt, I finished my round even par.

I’m not super hard on myself on this because in this kind of a qualifier I do believe it’s OK to have a target score in mind. But for my process, I see more clearly the impact that thinking about score in this way can have. I think the proper balance is an awareness of score, and an understanding of the scenarios where you might need to alter your decision-making down the stretch. 

I am in the third to last group in the US Open Qualifier, which gives me the advantage of knowing what I’ll need to shoot to finish in the top 7 out of 120 players. As I get to the back nine, if I’m far off the pace I’ll find spots to be more aggressive, and, if I’m within reach, being aware of that will give me an opportunity to double-down on my process.

As I was reflecting on this tournament I had the realization that you can’t carry your score forward. 

If I were to have shot two under it’s not like that score has any impact on the future. It’s over. The impact on that event is done, so what gets carried forward has everything to do with the execution of my process, and skill that I acquire and strengthen, from that round. This may sound super obvious, but for me it was a nice way of reinforcing why focusing on score isn’t relevant, outside of the unique situations where it can influence a decision.

If I find myself in contention at the US Open Local Qualifier, doubling-down on my process and execution I know gives me the best opportunity to thrive under pressure, plus at a minimum, I’ll also take another step towards mastering this key element of my game. Whether I qualify or not, that’s what I’m going to carry forward.

 

This Recap is a Template

One last piece I’ll share is that I’m committed to doing recaps like this for myself after every round. They won’t always make it to the blog, but know that every time I play golf I am diligently trying to apply previous lessons and learnings, and track new discoveries. For followers of my work, whenever I encounter a new problem, or a facet of an existing problem that needs another look, I will use the Mental Hand History as my way of problem solving. If you need a copy, you can get one here.  

The key improvement for me in this process is that previously mistakes came with a degree of self-criticism. Now I view these assessments as aspirational. That doesn’t mean I’m always happy with the result, but I’m at peace with wherever I land because I am confident, for the first time in a long time, that I’m putting in the right energy and effort, so any mistakes or problems I encounter are great opportunities to learn.

As I take one last attempt to realize my golf dreams, I decided to start blogging to practice what I preach, bring some accountability, and provide a window into my mental game work, goals, and process. If you’d like my latest post delivered right to your inbox, click here to added to the list.

Written by Jared Tendler

April 30, 2024

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