Recap from the U.S. Open Qualifier

 

It pains me to say it, but I did not qualify for the next stage of US Open qualifying. There were 120 guys competing for 7 spots. I shot 77 (+5), missed a playoff by 7 shots, and finished in the middle of the pack. I wasn’t close and that’s certainly part of the pain. It’s also painful to know I have to wait a year before I have another chance. 

I don’t mind the hurt. It’s evidence of how much I care and I’d much rather feel this way than the opposite. Frankly, if it was the opposite I’d be more worried that feeling ok was evidence that rekindling this dream of playing in the US Open was empty. So it hurts and that’s reassuring to know how much I want this. 

So I’m going to make the most of the next 359 days before I get my next chance. Preparation has already started.

 

The Good News

In the qualifier last year I was out of my league. Outclassed by a demanding golf course that I didn’t have the game to navigate. 

I love that this tournament is so demanding. It’s honest and reveals the state of your game in unambiguous terms. I select sites that generally have tougher fields because I don’t want any false feedback. A few lucky bounces aren’t going to make a difference if you don’t already have the game to properly compete. And getting through a weak field or easier course is poor preparation for the even greater challenge that lay ahead. 

I appreciate the honesty and take it to heart.

Over the last year I took that feedback and made significant upgrades in my full swing technique working with Dom, and in strength and mobility with Abi. I was not outclassed this year. The golf course was 7400 yards long, which is around average for the PGA Tour. I had the length and shot-making to contend. I was hitting my driver long and straight. Two of the par-fives measured 600 yards and I was just off the green in two. On the 540 par-five ninth hole, I hit driver, 5 iron to eight feet.

I have access to some stat tracking software that allows me to measure my performance vs. PGA Tour average. Tee to green I gained ~2.5 shots over PGA Tour average. (If you’re a trader or a poker player, think of the “strokes gained” statistic as a way of measuring your edge.) This kind of ball striking and distance is something I could only have dreamed of last year, and on its own is good enough for me to be in position to qualify. 

Feels great to know that I have a long game that can compete on championship level courses. I hit a bunch of great iron shots giving me six makeable birdie putts on the front nine alone. I was largely in command of my full swing shots, other than a few that were awkward because I lacked familiarity with the course, and I didn’t trust the adjustment I needed to make to the adrenaline I sensed in my body early in the round. These led to a few poor decisions and equally poor swings.

If I had a short-game that was equally up to the task, I could have recovered from these shots. But that’s the crux of what led to my demise.

 

The Bad News

The biggest problem in this round was my putting. I lost 4.5 shots due to putting alone, which is a ton. Missed a couple short ones and six birdie putts from 8-15’. Coupled with subpar chipping, I didn’t have much of a chance to get through to the next stage.

I can say clearly that it wasn’t because of the pressure. If anything, I was lacking some competitive fire, which I’ll get to in a moment. I think the problem with my putting was sloppy technique. I’ve really been emphasizing an intuitive and feel based approach, which has made my speed control really good. And during this round that was true, ironically. But the sloppiness of my technique led to inconsistent contact and generally not hitting it on line.

To be fair, the season for me is still young and I’ve mainly been focusing on ball striking, getting comfortable with my new irons, and integrating the physical improvements in strength to ensure my swing is solid/consistent. I didn’t prioritize my putting technique enough and up-until this event didn’t get the feedback that I needed to. I putted well in the event that I won, and in non-competitive rounds I’ve generally putted well enough.

But if I’m being honest, I’ve not had a putting lesson in over 12 years and I’m probably being naive not at least looking into some of the new technology. Given what happened with my irons, it’s at least worth looking into in the future. 

With the Philly Mid-Am Championship in just 10 days (the event my qualifying win got me into), I’ll first focus on cleaning up my technique/fundamentals, while finding the right balance to still free up my intuitive feel. One without the other leaves me vulnerable to outcomes like this.

To my point about lacking some competitive fire. I’ve mentioned previously that with my former issues with pressure largely resolved, last year I instead struggled, at times, with my energy being too flat. During this event, I didn’t find an ideal mixture of intensity and was a bit too process-oriented.

The morning of the qualifier, I wrote in my journal that I slept really well, something that doesn’t usually happen because anticipation tends to keep me up at night or wakes me up early. Instead, I felt calm and confident, and had this feeling of “I’m not expected to qualify and this is a cool, fun experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this.”

While that is true, for me, it works as an overall/macro perspective not as a mentality for competing. I didn’t have the “I want this” feeling that fuels better focus/intensity. Gratitude only gets you so far when you’re competing against 120 other people who all want the same thing.

The lack of competitive fire was also evident in grading my process/decision-making for every shot. My goal was to make a clear, decisive, and committed decision for every shot, and while this did help me to improve this during the round – which is a goal for the season – I lost a little bit of the connection between my decisions and qualifying. 

There’s a balance that I’m trying to nail down here, and I’m getting closer. Unfortunately, in this qualifier I was too process-oriented. I need more competitive fire to keep my focus sharp. 

I don’t feel like I should have known better or have any regrets. This was a true lesson learned and I’ll keep working to nail down an ideal mixture. 

I think the bigger result needs to be prioritized more. I need a stronger connection before the round that I’m there to compete and qualify, or in the Mid-am Championship, I’m there to win. That’s the starting point and sets the tone for the round/event, and my process/decision-making is critical to how I do that.

 

Next Steps

This event is at the top of the mountain, and because it’s so demanding, it reveals where my game is today. I’ve forged some strengths, and found some clearer weak points that I need to improve. The remainder of this season is prep for this event next year, and I’ve already started. 

The second biggest event of the year is the US Mid-Am. The national championship equivalent to the local Philly version I have in 10 days. The qualifier is in August, so I have time to prepare. Every event from then until now is a chance to build towards it.

I can also say that, no surprise, writing/editing this blog has helped me to feel better. The pain has lessened a bit, and I’m sure I will continue to as I put what I’ve learned into practice.

 

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

May 10, 2024

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