Column by Ken Cohen
At the same time I was playing in the New York State Mid-Amateur golf championship last weekend in Rochester against some pretty good amateurs 25 years and over, the Ryder Cup was being contested by 24 of the best players in the world. There’s nothing more eye-opening than trying to do something at your level and then immediately watching how it’s done by those at a much higher level.
And that’s not to say that everything the guys at the Ryder Cup did was that much better than what I did. Which in a way is reassuring to us “amateurs.” I saw shanked irons, skulled wedges, duck hooks, missed one-footers, poor course management and a host of other common mistakes at Medinah. Everything I did in Rochester.
But they also hit some amazing shots and played golf at its absolute best. Ian Poulter birdieing five consecutive holes; Nicolas Colsaerts making eight birdies and an eagle and Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson going 10 under through 13 holes.
I didn’t do that in Rochester. The most birdies I made in a row was one and the best I was compared to par for any stretch of holes was the first nine I played in even par. That’s probably why I finished 28th a decent performance considering 132 started but certainly not good enough to be in contention.
As I drove the four hours home, I dissected every shot in all three rounds, which is what golfers usually do. I also juxtaposed it with what I saw on television with The Ryder Cup and tried to draw some conclusions that I could build upon. What kept hitting me over the head was how little momentum I generated in my rounds. The fact that I could not string together two birdies in a row clearly showed how bad my timing was. Not so much the timing in my swing, which certainly wasn’t stellar, but the ability to hit a good shot at the right time or not hit a bad shot at the wrong time.
In the first round I had a perfect opportunity to get under par and possibly go low. After just birdieing my 11th hole, I had a 50-yard wedge for my third shot into the 3rd hole, a relatively easy par-five. Instead of knocking it close and giving myself a chance for another birdie, I dumped the wedge into the front bunker and made bogey a round killer.
I’ve played competitive golf long enough (as well as other sports) to know that is the difference between a great result and a mediocre one. In golf they call it “keeping the round going.”
It’s the same in all sports making the key pitch, hitting the big three-pointer, converting the crucial third down. That’s what winning ultimately comes down to excelling when you need to and avoiding the big mistake when you can’t afford to.
Yes, I’ve done it shot low rounds and won tournaments. But the difference between me and the guys at The Ryder Cup is they do it all the time. They have the rare ability to consistently generate momentum, keep rounds going and feed off the confidence in their skills. Amateurs like me can do almost everything top professionals can do on any given day. And though we have some degree of confidence to rely on, we also have doubt. There is no doubt with world-class athletes.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.