LESSONS FROM SCOTLAND
The Open Championship at St. Andrews is now in the books, and it was an incredible week of golf that had so many great story lines. In the end, after brutal weather pushed the tournament to a Monday finish, Zach Johnson was awarded the Claret Jug as the “champion golfer of the year” after outlasting Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a 4-hole playoff. It was a gutsy, emotional win for the Iowan, as he captured his second Major win after putting on the Green Jacket at Augusta National in 2007. Let’s take a look at a few of the highlights of the week from beautiful Scotland.
SPIETH COMES CLOSE
As I wrote about just a few weeks ago, Jordan Spieth came to the Old Course in search of history, as he attempted to join Ben Hogan (1953) as the only players to win the first 3 Majors of the year. He came agonizingly close, finishing one shot out of the playoff. In the end, a final round 4 putt on the 8th hole and a missed par putt on the “Road Hole” doomed his chances, as the putter that was so strong at the Masters and the U.S. Open was a little off this week. But the fact that he was able to get so close, with all of the pressure and spotlight focused so brightly on him, says a lot of about the mental makeup of Jordan Spieth. His mental fortitude, at times tested heavily by the blustery conditions at St. Andrews, was strong, and he showed the world that he is ready to become the #1 player in the game. It’s hard to imagine anyone betting against the Texan when he lands in Wisconsin in August for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. If he could win, he would join Hogan and Tiger Woods (2000) as the only players ever to win 3 Majors in a season.
Lost in his 2 bogies made in the playoff was the tremendous play of Australian Marc Leishman, who was the outright leader in the Open until a short putt at the 16th hole in the final round slipped by and cost him a shot. Leishman played outstanding from tee to green, and shot the lowest final 36 hole total in tournament history, shooting 64-66 in the last 2 rounds. It was especially impressive as he only made the weekend cut by 1 shot, and after the first 36 holes was tied for 50th place. The story that followed him during the week was that of his wife nearly dying from a surprise illness during the Masters, and how she was able to beat being given a 5% chance of surviving to get on the road to a full recovery. Leishman was honest all week about the perspective this experience gave him in life and in golf, and he seemed to cherish the opportunity to compete for the Open Championship and still be able to go home to his wife and children. He may not have won, but he won many new fans during the week.
WATSON SAYS GOODBYE
As the sun set on a Scottish Saturday, one of the legends of the game crossed the Swilcan Bridge, took off his cap, and waved goodbye for the last time in an Open Championship. Tom Watson will go down as one of the greatest to ever play, but it is in the Open where he cemented his status in the annals of the game. Over the course of a great career, he won the Claret Jug 5 times, and nearly pulled of a miracle 6th win at the age of 59 in 2009 before falling in a playoff. This was indeed the right place to say farewell for the 65 year old Watson, at the home of golf and at home in Scotland, where he has been taken in as a second son. Tom Watson famously didn’t love the type of golf played in the Open Championship, a style of play that favors playing along the ground and relying on the bounces. But after his first Open Championship win in 1975, he embraced the challenge and became arguably the greatest bad weather player of his generation. In doing so, he endeared himself to the people in Scotland, and will go down as a fan favorite who gave many great memories and was a worthy Open Champion.
THE GRINDER WINS
At the end of a long week, after terrible weather conditions, delays, a Monday final round, and a few extra playoff holes, one man stood in front of the crowd at St. Andrews, clutching the Claret Jug tightly to his chest. Zach Johnson had dreamed of this moment, even after his 2007 win at The Masters, and he had worked so very hard to get to this point. There are many players that wow you with long, high drives hit by beautiful swings, but few players on Tour have worked as hard as Johnson to get to this point in his career. He spent many years playing the mini tours, grinding his way through low paying events and scraping to get by and chase his dream. In my mind, Zach Johnson is a great example of how self belief and work habits can lift you up over other people in your profession. As a coach, I want my students to understand that the shots he hit to win the Open Championship were forged in countless hours on the range, honing his craft. Many times during the telecast, the announcers would mention how Johnson was one of the best wedge players on Tour, and how he worked incredibly hard to get there. In fact, on Saturday as the sun went down, Johnson was spotted out on the range hitting wedges to his caddie, Damon Green. The best wedge player in the world, recognized as such by his peers, standing out on the range in the dark getting better. The lesson here for all golfers is to make your weaknesses a strength by practicing things you aren’t good at in your game. Too often I see students and other golfers practicing the parts of the game they enjoy the most and do well, afraid to get out of their comfort zone and push themselves to the next level. Take a page out of the book of the “champion golfer of the year”, and work on your whole game so that when you are under the pressure, you will feel comfort in knowing you have what it takes to execute the shot at hand.