“Somebody’s name is going to be on the trophy… [The course] isn’t supposed to suit your game, you are supposed to suit your game to the golf course.” – Jack Nicklaus
We hear it around the time of every major, and maybe more so during U.S. Open week than any other: Don’t beat yourself!
Like clockwork, though, players will complain, criticize, and question all sorts of aspects of the U.S. Open setup. Some start early before the tournament begins, while others get frustrated after poor rounds and lay into the course afterwards. What they all have in common, though, is that the complainer never comes out on top (or even close, for that matter). The eventual champion of the week may internally share the same misgivings with the course, but never expresses those opinions externally or lets it affect their game.
And so it was with Chambers Bay. Many of the early criticisms or fears of the course being too difficult proved to be premature, as the course yielded good scoring conditions and the most eagles ever in a U.S. Open. After a few rumblings Thursday evening about poor green conditions, however, the sentiment caught on like wildfire on Friday afternoon, taking down many golfers in contention and rendering them completely defeated mentally.
“I kept telling myself make a pure stroke, if it bounces in or out, so be it, at least I can hold my head up high and hit a pure stroke. I hit it exactly where I wanted it to and it went in.” – Tiger Woods on his last putt of the 2008 U.S. Open on bumpy poa annua greens
While you will never have to experience a bumpy putt over flowering poa annua in The Golf Club, you may encounter a course, a setup, or wind conditions while competing on the TGC Tours that puts you out of your comfort zone. Scratch that… you will without question be taken out of your comfort zone on multiple occasions! Use these tips from Chambers Bay to keep yourself in contention no matter how much you dislike the circumstances of the week’s event:
- Embrace being taken out of your comfort zone. The unique setup and the list of “firsts” surrounding the U.S. Open put many players off of their game from the jump. It was the players who remained adaptable and embraced a new, and slightly scary challenge that were able to identify from early on in Thursday’s round that plenty of scoring was available at Chambers Bay, and recovering quickly from mistakes was the key to maintaining momentum. One such player who performed well demonstrated the correct mindset from the beginning, former U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy. He adeptly summarized the difficulties that many golfers were having: “You have to move the ball both ways and you have to use your brain, which is a rare thing in modern golf and something we’re not very good at, I don’t think.”
- Don’t externalize things that you are uncomfortable with until the tournament is over. The courses in the Golf Club present a great amount of variety, including the green speeds, firmness, themes, lighting and design techniques. And let’s also not forget the ever work in progress wind speeds. If any of these are not to your liking, the worst thing that you can do is present those opinions externally before or during the tournament. Expressing them makes them real, and immediately hinders your ability to cope with the conditions. You may have to lie to yourself and convince yourself that everything is great if that’s what it takes to get through the week, but expressing your discomfort is admitting defeat. After you have holed the last putt, then you can use the appropriate channels to express your concerns over the setup.
- “Bet on yourself.” Not literally of course, but being in your own corner is an important part of mental toughness as it relates to golf. “Betting on yourself” is the term that Dr. Gio Valiante used to describe Jordan Spieth’s mental strategy during the Masters this year as he sat on a lead for all four rounds. In difficult situations during competition, you need to suppress the self-doubt that creeps in and can easily lead to the blame game that many golfers partook in this week at Chambers Bay, blaming the greens, the pins, the setup, anything but their own deficiencies, especially mental. When the conflicting thoughts enter your mind in particularly difficult or uncomfortable times, bet on yourself and trust your abilities to make a good shot, and then accept the outcome of of your shots and take responsibility for them, whether good or bad.
Try to practice these tips in your upcoming tournaments and see if they work for you. Hopefully in your toughest, most uncomfortable weeks, such as the pros faced at Chambers Bay last week, you will find yourself becoming more Jordan Spieth- or Louis Oosthuizen-like than Billy Horschel- or Ian Poulter-like.