“The hair on my arms, neck and legs was standing straight walking to the 17th green,” Thomas said afterwards, “and having to play five to eight yards for the adrenaline just because of the fans and timing on 17 and 18 and other holes, these are such hard things to explain.
“But it was great,” he added. “I mean, that’s why we all play. That’s why we all do this.
He’s not the only player to claim to live for sweaty palms, dry mouth and labored breathing.
Two-time winner Zach Johnson told PGATOUR.COM, “I relish these opportunities. That’s really what I’m working for, what I’m preparing for; if you’re a human, you have to accept that you’re going to have all kinds of emotions and nerves, so you have to go back to what you can control. For me, as Mo says, I can control where my eyes go, where my feet go, what I eat, what I drink, when I talk, and that’s what I focus on, and ideally, the ball bothers me. ”
Pickens advises his clients to take emotion out of the equation, so much so that he advises juniors to watch TOUR events with the volume turned off (“Commentators always want to inject drama”) and don’t call not the majors by name. Instead of saying, for example, “I’ll see you next week at the Masters,” he’ll say, “I’ll see you next week at Augusta National.” He also tells them that they are not “in the running” until the last three or four holes of a tournament.
“The weight of discord makes a player consume a lot of energy,” he said. “And we’re not going to try harder because the media is going to call it a major, or a FedExCup. I want them to trust their routine. I don’t really want them involved in the ball ;I want them to be involved behind the shot and talk with their caddy but once they come in I want the pre-shot routine to hit for them Can they trust that and focus execution only?
“I’m going to put the putter like this, I’m going to do my feet, I’m going to peek, another peek” – Pickens snapped his fingers – “and the ball is gone. If you can focus on that process and not the results that come with it, you can eliminate a lot of the emotion. Emotion is what drives you to push putts, or pull putts, or duck hook shots.
If there’s one mantra Pickens tells his players, it’s this: Be where your feet are.
Stay in character, forgive failure
After netting a 30-foot birdie putt to shoot a final round 66 at the 2015 Open Championship, Zach Johnson walked into the locker room at St. Andrews and was still in play mode. His eyes had the distant gaze of someone one who is there but not there. With the possibility of overtime looming — he would win a four-hole playoff over Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen — Johnson was in an altered state, like an actor refusing to break his character.
“I was freezing,” he said of that moment, when he realized he had no one but Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, who started the day long before him, and were now tied for the lead. “I was like, OK, I’m gonna take a little bite, I’m gonna go to the shooting range, I’m gonna go putt.”
Leishman missed a short birdie putt for the win on 18, requiring the playoffs.
“I was going to prepare like I was starting another round, which was probably the best thing I could have done,” Johnson said, “because I was mentally prepared and I birdied both first holes of the playoffs and put me in a position that was tough for them to come back.
When a player breaks character, like Scheffler letting his guard down on the 18th green at Augusta, it can be a strange sight. “There’s no way he’s going to make four putts if he stays in the mindset he’s been in all this time,” Pickens said, “but he knew he was going to win and he lost his advantage on this green.”
Even mental giants can crumble. Johnson was already a major champion having won the Masters two years earlier, but got flustered after locking himself out of his bus before the final round of the 2009 Wells Fargo Championship. Although he started the final round in head, he shot 76 and tied for 11th.
“The number pad thing didn’t work,” he said. “I came back to class and rushed through everything. I parred the first hole, and the No. 2 was a par 3 that was a 7 iron, and I was hitting my third shot about 75 yards out. I shot a 6 with no penalty shot. It wasn’t good.”
How did Johnson respond? He won two weeks later at the Valero Texas Open.
Which brings us to Smith, who a year ago on the first playoff hole of the inaugural FedExCup Playoffs event pushed his training into the Hudson River. Finau won, starting his current form, but for Smith the heartbreaking finish, especially the good pass with the driver, looked uncannily like his mistake off the tee that sent him into the trees in Memphis two weeks earlier. .
Those failures, however, only set the stage for a career season in 2022. Smith posted the lowest score in TOUR history (from par) to beat world No. 1 Jon Rahm at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, then won THE PLAYERS and The Open will rise to No. 2 in the FedExCup and World Rankings. The Australian was positively electric as he birdied four straight to start the back nine on Sunday at THE PLAYERS and five straight at the turn of the Open, his nine back scores in those two wins totaling a stunning 62.