My Last State Championship Continued - Hopelessness & Lessons Learned - Part 3

By: Peter Black


The downward spiral continued on hole Nos. 3-5. I bogeyed the third and doubled the fourth. As I walked off the fifth green with a bogey - a par-5 that I could have birdied and should have parred - my already crumbling confidence collapsed entirely. I began smashing clubs into the ground, swearing and sulking. My drives sailed to the right and left, pummeling helplessly into the wretched, wet straw grass. My wedges squirted sadly into the air, never landing within 10 feet of the green. Every iron was toed, heeled, bladed or chunked. My putts were all for par, bogey or double, none of which I made.

[Editor's Note: This is the final installment in a three-part series by Peter Black, an English student at Western Washington University. His second explored issues of confidence on the golf course, using the story of his last state championship as a backdrop. This one concludes that story and lends some final thoughts on mental approaches and attitudes on the golf course.]

The downward spiral continued on hole Nos. 3-5. I bogeyed the third and doubled the fourth. As I walked off the fifth green with a bogey - a par-5 that I could have birdied and should have parred - my already crumbling confidence collapsed entirely. I began smashing clubs into the ground, swearing and sulking. My drives sailed to the right and left, pummeling helplessly into the wretched, wet straw grass. My wedges squirted sadly into the air, never landing within 10 feet of the green. Every iron was toed, heeled, bladed or chunked. My putts were all for par, bogey or double, none of which I made.

I wasn't angry and frustrated as I trudged off the ninth green. I was furious and desperate. I was unable to speak. I was unable to think. I added up my score: 45. Another nine like that and I'd be looking at 90.

As I sulked over a hot dog on the 10th tee - feeling tremendously sorry for myself and ashamed that my parents had to witness my play and childish attitude - I was struck by a ping of hope. Not hope in my game; that had disappeared hours ago. Hope that I would walk off the 18th green with a smile on my face and a scorecard in hand, a scorecard that when counted would add up to a nice, clean 36. The official would congratulate me for making such a comeback. My mom and dad would tell me they were proud. I would sleep well that night and show up the next day with confidence, shoot a 72 and leave North Bellingham with a seventh- or eighth-place medal. I wanted it, but more importantly, I deserved it.

I threw my hot dog in the trash and teed up my ball on the 10th, hoping it would go down the middle but not really expecting it to.

Duck hook. Such a duck hook that it flew over the water hazard and straw grass, settling safely in the middle of the 18th fairway.

"You'll have an open shot from there," one of my playing partners said.

Yes, I thought. I will have an open shot from there. Unfortunately, that shot will be from the 18th fairway, while we're on the 10th hole.

I walked to my ball and looked at the green. I did have an open shot. A straightforward, simple open shot of about 160 yards. The flicker of hope remained. I pulled out my 8-iron out and took a few practice swings. I didn't intend to hit a good shot, but I did intend to not hit a bad shot.

Not surprisingly, I hit a bad shot. It started right and drifted more right, eventually settling in the rough about 20 yards from the green. I duffed my pitch, hit my chip 10 feet, and missed the putt. A double-bogey to begin my miraculous comeback.

I wanted to walk off the course. I wanted to hurl my clubs in the water. I wanted to throw such a loud, horrible tantrum that they would disqualify me.

But I didn't walk off the course, throw my clubs in a pond, or attack a rules official. Instead, I stopped trying. I stopped trying to hit a draw, or a fade, or a knockdown. I no longer cared where the ball went. I simply grabbed a club, got up and hit it. Complete detachment. Complete freedom.

I think I finished somewhere in the mid-90s. Needless to say, I missed the cut. I signed my scorecard, got in my parent's car, and began the long drive home.

Given that my swing had been feeling great, I was a 6 handicap and one of the best players in my league, the outrageous blowup at state was more than just a "bad round." I was obsessed with my score on the front nine; there's no denying that. But that doesn't explain the even worse performance on the back, during which I no longer cared about anything, including my score.

The only explanation is confidence and concentration. State was my nadir, but I'd had trouble scoring in high school ever since a brief sophomore-year slump - both in tournaments and casual rounds - because I didn't believe in myself. As a result, my good rounds were never great and my bad rounds were always horrendous.

I let the first two holes at state - neither of which were even disastrous - affect my confidence for the rest of the round. Each bad shot lurched through my mind, combining and growing before eventually solidifying into a massive psychological amalgam of golfing negativity that affected every swing. A selectively negative memory produces only more negativity.

Tiger Woods - arguably the greatest golfer of all time - is the epitome of confidence and concentration. He exudes it. Although I love watching him play, I despise listening to him in press conferences. He must try to be uninteresting. It doesn't matter what the reporters ask him; he seemingly gives the same 10 responses to every question at every tournament.

Which is why I was shocked by a comment he gave immediately following his final-round blowup at the 2012 PGA Championship. He told a reporter that he was "too relaxed" and that's "not how he normally plays." TV's Johnny Miller said it was a "strange" comment for Tiger to make.

Strange only because it's the only interesting thing Tiger has said in the last five years. He rarely let's us know how he thinks on the course, particularly in the final round of a major. Tiger says he's not relaxed out there.

So why do golf gurus keep telling me to relax? A relaxed attitude may be beneficial to many, but I'm not one of them. We all think and play differently. Some golfers thrive on calmness. Some thrive on intensity. Regardless of the mental approach, its success depends on confidence. I've determined - after years of self-exploration - that my ideal golfing mindset resembles Tiger's: intense, aggressive and with vigorous confidence and concentration.

Peter Black is an avid golfer from Seattle. Currently a senior at Western Washington University, he has been playing golf competitively and recreationally since he was 13. Peter is an English major at Western and enjoys combining his love of writing with his love of golf.


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