Every one of us is capable of playing bad shots, even the game’s Major-winning greats. But as Ladies European Tour star Meg MacLaren explains in her exclusive column, it’s how you react to them that determines so much.
Like a lot of people, particularly over the last year, I’ve been through more than my fair share of Netflix. Whether I’m rewatching old favourites or getting caught up in the hype of the newest glossy dramas, I need my evening-TV-downtime. Having been complaining one day about being in between shows, my sister helpfully suggested something new. But I shot her down – “I don’t need anything between Thursdays and Sundays, silly!”
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The golf addict in me isn’t yet bored with any form of live golf shown on TV. That might change in a few months’ time, particularly when I’ve got my own tournaments to get wrapped up in, but for now it doesn’t matter if it’s Arizona or Abu Dhabi, filled with top 10 players or players I’ve never heard of. Equally, back-nine dramas on a Sunday or complete mundanity at 1pm on the red button on a Thursday – I’m invested regardless.
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Which brings me to a point I think is often overlooked when it comes to professional golf, particularly on even the highest rung of the PGA Tour. The place to find this point is in the featured groups during the early golf coverage on Thursday and Friday. They often consist of the marquee names, who tend to be fan favourites or the highest-ranked players in the field, ready to be slap-bang in the middle of the full TV coverage on the opposing day.
But featured groups give you a window into what being a professional golfer on a major tour actually looks like. And that reality is often extraordinarily different to what you see when you settle in late on a Sunday evening. Unless the networks are incredibly unlucky, someone in that group will end up near the top of the leaderboard. But a lot of them don’t.
Some of them will miss the cut. Some of them will scrape together an incredibly unimpressive 71, before coming to life the following day. Basically, there is a lot of very ordinary-looking golf. Golf that people who aren’t quite at my level of addiction will not be in the slightest bit interested in. But understanding that ordinariness is important.
Even the best players in the world are capable of bad golf. They are capable of poor decisions, and mishits, and lost balls, and yips, and– in the case of Francesco Molinari recently – embarrassing tops off the first tee.
One of the things that separates the best in the game from those who want to be isn’t just the frequency of these poor shots. It’s the way they react to them. Using the Molinari example again, having stone-cold topped his 3-wood, he laughed with his caddie when he walked off the first green. And he took the p*ss out of himself afterwards on Twitter.
Accepting failures in execution is actually one of the quickest ways to improve, no matter what level of golf you play at. That may seem counter intuitive, but the time for analysis and technical ‘fixing’ is not in the middle of a tournament round. It is possibly a more difficult thing to do the better the player is, because we become accustomed to hitting shots exactly as we visualise them. And we’re all dissatisfied perfectionists or, to word it as one fellow pro did last summer, “high-functioning depressives”.
Living in that world, there can be a tendency to forget that the best players in the world also don’t hit great shots all the time. The players we watch on TV on Sundays are the players in contention to win; the players who are beating 100 other professional golfers on the same golf course. Yet those other 100 hold a lesson in the fickle nature of success.
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Brooks Koepka missed three cuts in a row before winning the Waste Management in February. Jordan Spieth is the easiest example to make – his misses are out there for all to see, yet he recently recorded back-to-back top fives and has three Majors to his name. Yani Tseng, about to make a return to the LPGA, is ranked No.919 in the world at the time of writing. She previously spent 109 consecutive weeks at World No.1.
Ultimately, there are a million things that make someone able to compete at the highest level of this game. Ability is obviously one. High work ethic is another. But the often overlooked one is trust. Trusting your ability; trusting that you have what it takes in any given round to put a score together regardless of the circumstances, that is what true confidence is. And that is the difference in moving on from the bad shots all of us will inevitably hit in a round of golf, and letting them destroy our scores.