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Sunday, 19 February 2017

Bobby Jones on Winning Tournaments

Bursting on the stage at fourteen years of age in the US Amateur, where he nearly beat the defending champion, Bobby Jones endured seven lean years where he just couldn't seem to break through and win a major championship. In his book Down the Fairway Bobby talked about the change in attitude that helped him break through and win five of his next ten majors.

He wrote:
    "There has been a change in my tournament attitude; of that I am sure. It was not an improvement in shot-making. Leaving off the minor refinements, I had as good an assortment of shots in the seven lean years as I have today. I think I never played particularly badly in any one of those tournaments, before I broke through to win. I know that in the amateur competitions I never was beaten by a man who was not playing first-rank golf. And as I began to read more and more, and hear more and more, the dictum that I was a great golfer, but I could not win a major championship, the sorry option seemed forced upon me that either I was jinxed--a wretched sort of plea--or that I didn't have the tournament stuff... I pondered that miserable option more than I would care to have people know.
     Yet I won that championship, after tying with Bobby Cruickshank; and I think that perhaps it was in that tournament my attitude began changing. I saw Jock Hutchison leading after the first round and the second, collapsing midway of the third round. I saw Bobby Cruickshank, going to the fourteenth tee of the final round in a dazzling burst of golf--he went through seven holes, beginning with No.6, in 23 strokes--break down even as I had broken down in my own finishing round, and tie me by shooting a wonderful birdie 3 at the seventy-second hole. And I managed to beat him in a play-off.
     So I suppose I began to understand that the other fellows all had their troubles, too; that I didn't have to go out and shoot four perfect rounds to win a major open championship, or even one perfect round, if I could just keep four decent rounds sticking together. I suppose I began instinctively to understand that the tournament strain bears down on everybody; not only on me. I suppose I began to understand that one lost stroke did not necessarily have to be redeemed at once; perhaps it was not ruinous; perhaps the other fellows were losing a stroke, too."

At Flossmoor Bobby had tied Chick Evans for low medal score in the qualifying round. Since they both were knocked out in match play, they played off in stroke play to determine the medalist. It was in this round that Bobby's attitude changed. He wrote:

    "In this play-off with Chick, at medal competition, I was two strokes down. But I had a different attitude. Some way, I wasn't in that frantic hurry, about getting those strokes back. It was as if something deep in my consciousness kept counseling patience. Patience! Somewhere lately I heard or read that the greatest asset of Harry Vardon was his perfect realization of the cold fact that no matter what happened, there was only one thing for him to do--keep on hitting the ball. I hadn't heard or read that, at Flossmoor; and I cannot say that such a plan was in my mind. Instinctively or otherwise, I managed to keep on hitting the ball, and not trying to wrench back those strokes immediately. And presently--presently they came back to me, in a sort of normal and ordinary manner, and some more with them.
     So maybe that is the answer--the stolid and negative and altogether unromantic attribute of patience. It is nothing new or original to say that golf is played one stroke at a time. But it took me many years to realize it. And it is easy to forget, now. And it won't do to forget, in tournament golf...
     Maybe that is the answer--patience. Whatever I may possess of it now must have been cultivated, as I assuredly did not have it at first, and the number of years required to hammer it in to me is a sorry commentary on my native intelligence."

So, when you hear the third round leader telling the news reporters that he is going to try to be patient and play one shot at a time in the hopes of finishing the tournament off; know that what he's saying is not simply an over-used cliche, it's what he must do to win.