On the highway, and the football field, speed kills. In golf, speed is not a factor. What kills in golf is pressure and fatigue.
There are three components in the makeup of a competitor: Physical, Mental and Emotional. Think of them as three buckets that are in varying states of full (or empty for you pessimists out there). They are separate yet connected vessels in that they are not static and go up and down independently of each other. A competitor is successful when the three are at an above average, yet stable, level. In an event as long as a U.S. Open, this is very difficult to do.
Pressure and fatigue affect those components directly. Pressure creates fatigue. Fatigue leads to poor decisions and affects execution. Those two factors almost always decide this championship.
Pressure and fatigue simply wore out Jim Furyk who is now 42 years old. 5-Hour Energy is no match for U.S. Open conditions. Furyk is as tough a competitor as there is on the tour, yet even the poster-boy of plodders is susceptible. There were several shots down the stretch that were completely out of his character. The downfall started with his duck hook off the tee at 16, leading to a bogey six. On 18, a pulled wedge from 100 yards led to his second bogey over the final three holes.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) looks to stress all of these areas to the maximum in their Open Championship. After the 2012 edition of their championship, they have to be satisfied that they accomplished their objective.
It is usually true that major tournaments are usually lost rather than won. In reality, the golf course won. This was the fifth time that The Olympic Club in San Francisco hosted the United States' most important championship. No one finished at par or better, and only the champion, Webb Simpson, finished at one-over par 281. The USGA had to be tickled to death at how the course played.
In fact, in the five Opens held at The Olympic Club, only once has the winner finished under par.
Specific Lessons Learned
Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fatigue affects our brains and leads to bad decisions as well as physical mistakes. You have to try and maintain a level state to save your energy to play. There is no magic elixir for U.S. Open fatigue.
Par is a relative score. According to the USGA, "Par" is the score that an expert player would be expected to make for a given hole. Par means expert play under ordinary weather conditions, allowing two strokes on the putting green.
The 156 best players in the world averaged 73.8 per round for the tournament. The average for the final two rounds after the cut was approximately 72.45. This is after those playing the worst were dismissed.
In reality, par was closer to 72 than 70.
It is amazing how many players "fire and fall back." As soon as they realize that they can win the U.S. Open they get nervous and make a mistake. Whenever you think of the prize and not what you have to do right now, you are prone to error. That is what staying in the present, one-shot-at-a-time means. This was really obvious with Michael Thompson missing his easy birdie putt on 17 and bouncing his iron tee shot on 18 off a tree.
Beau Hossler hurt his chances at low amateur when he said on Saturday evening that he was changing his goal from low-amateur to winning the championship. While that has to be your goal, you should not verbalize it. That statement put more pressure on him and took him out of the moment.
Pressure does not manifest itself only in putting, but also in driving. Graeme McDowell missed eight consecutive fairways in the final round. He has gone entire tournaments and not missed eight fairways. Pressure makes us all do things out of character.
Game plan and experience only matters if you can execute. A great plan goes completely awry if you cannot hit the ball where you want.
When you get in trouble, get out of trouble. Do not compound the problem. Especially in an Open, you seldom can extricate yourself from trouble with a spectacular shot.
You have to know your limitations. You have to be realistic in knowing what you do well and what you do poorly. Avoid doing the things you do poorly unless forced to do them.
You can run but you can't hide. David Toms was not hitting it well enough to win, and a bad stretch was an eventuality. That stretch happened Saturday. His fight and determination helped bring him back on Sunday.
There is an element of luck, and don't give me the preparation and opportunity equation (Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity). In 1998 Lee Janzen's ball stays up in a tree on the fifth hole, and falls out before he could re-tee. This year, on the same hole, Lee Westwood's ball stays stuck in what may have been the same tree. It didn't come down.
No analysis of a major would be complete without something about Tiger Woods:
Tiger butchering it up on the weekend shows you how difficult the game of golf really is. Golf is the most humbling game on the planet. That is with the possible exception of running with the bulls if you slip and get run over. Tiger finished with 75 – 73 on the weekend. This keeps his streak in never coming from behind to win in a major intact.
He is presently in denial. He could not admit that he did not adjust to the changing greens, and the between clubs yardages story is just an excuse. If you have ten yards between clubs, how many times are you exactly on the number? Almost never.
The media is still falling all over Tiger Woods. They want to make sure he will still talk to them. But I have news for them: Tiger is no longer the Alpha-Male of the PGA Tour. That is making his comeback more difficult. The field respects him but is no longer in awe. He is a victim of his own incredible success. Everyone had to raise their level of play to compete, and they have. Tiger will at some point be a major winner, but he has a long way to go.
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