Sunday, 29 October 2017

Playing With the Lead

We saw DJ lose a big lead this week. No doubt it was painful for him. But going into the final round with a big lead is no picnic. It sometimes can make you feel like you've got everything to lose and nothing to gain. It's a head trip. Or, for most of us, it certainly can be.

DJ's loss was no reflection upon his abilities as a golfer. Let's face it, he's a great player who will no doubt win again, and win often. He's a tremendous talent. This week it just got away on him. It happens to the best of them.

Consider Bobby Jones. In his first Major victory, he went into the last round at Inwood, Long Island with a three shot lead over Bobby Cruikshank. In his book, Down the Fairway, he wrote about it:

    "It was then that I learned what a devilish thing it is to be setting the pace. At the luncheon intermission I figured that another 73 would win for me, or even a 74, and probably a 75. And I made the fatal mistake of playing for a certain figure that was not Old Man Par. What I should have done, of course, was to set my sights on par and shoot for that as best I could and shut out of my mind Bobby Cruikshank and Jock Hutchinson and the rest of them. I admit I was thinking about Bobby Cruikshank, who was starting behind me. I heard that he was the only one with a real chance to catch me.
     I started badly and was out in 39, two strokes over par. But I had never been over 35 coming in, and I wasn't much worried. When I holed a six-yard putt for a burdie 3 on the tenth, and after a oar on the next three holes got a birdie 4 on the long fourteenth, I felt I was safe. I had a bit of luch getting a par 3 on the tricky fifteenth, and then, on three holes of 4-4-4 on which I had not used more than twelve strokes in any previous round, I finished feebly with 5-5-6, chucking away four strokes to par, and coming as near as possible to chucking away my chance for the championship.
     The strain of setting the pace simply got me, I suppose. You have to figure on that, as any other hazard... I must have looked pretty bad when I walked off the green because when O.B. came up to shake hands with me I could see him blink before he said:
     'Bob, I think you're champion. Cruikshank will never catch you.'
     Then I said what was in my heart and had been there longer than I like to admit:
     'Well, I didn't finish like a champion. I finished like a yellow dog.'"

As it turned out, Cruikshank did catch Bobby and they had to play off for the championship. He had surrendered his three shot lead after all with that terrible finish. But Bobby went out and beat Cruikshank in the playoff to win his first Major, capping the win off with a decisive two iron to the final hole.

Bobby Jones understood the strain of leading a golf tournament. He considered it to be a hazard. That's why it is so common to see the leader on the final day fail to win. It should be nice to have the lead starting the final round. But it's a burden. As I said earlier, you can feel like you have everything to lose, rather than to win. It happens. And I'm certain DJ will be back. Sure, he's got some more scar tissue. But that won't stop him.