Learning to Win

The psychological impact of one player’s domination might not be the biggest factor though. The simple reasoning is this; while Tiger taking 30% of winning experience out of the pool isn’t a topic that the pros tackle with any enthusiasm, to a man they seem to agree that winning at the highest level has to be learned.

”I think so. I think it’s a process that a lot of people have to go through. There’s very few that come out and just go win. Learning how to win is a process and most guys don’t come out and win golf tournaments: there’s been very few to do it. There’s definitely a learning curve on learning how to win,” insists Rickie Fowler, who at 22, is in a similar situation to Jason Day in trying to put the final piece into the jigsaw and turn prodigious talent into victories.

“Being in contention: you don’t get those nerves and feelings just from a normal day of playing in a tournament. It is a new feeling and you have to get comfortable with it and learn how to deal with it.”

Another American PGA Tour Rookie Keegan Bradley, who this year, as well as winning the Byron Nelson, became only the third man in the entire history of the sport to win a Major at his first attempt when he claimed the 2011 PGA Championship, says while his wins as an Amateur and on the mini-tours helped they don’t begin to get you ready to win at the highest level. The 25-year-old New Englander agrees that you have to experience getting to the point where you can barely hold a club before you can work out how to overcome it.

“Definitely! The most nervous I’ve ever been was the second stage of PGA Tour Q School. I was so nervous coming towards the end. I was way more nervous then, than when I was contending to win at the (Byron) Nelson. It’s one of those things where you almost black out. I don’t remember some of the shots and that’s a huge part of it; you’re just so into it. I was in a play-off (at the Byron Nelson) and I don’t remember my second shot in the play-off. It’s a pretty intense experience. It’s a feeling that only people in sports can experience; it’s just intense!” Bradley says.

“It’s everywhere. It’s physically and mentally, especially mentally. You’re fighting off so many thoughts like getting to play Augusta, the Bridgestone, China things like that. There’s a lot going on in your head that you’re going to have to block out,” Bradley adds.

”It’s tough! It’s tough! You’ve never been there. You’ve been working to be there but you feel different kind of things inside you,” agrees 28-year-old Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal, who bounced back into form this year to beat Sergio Garcia in a play-off at the BMW International Open.

Larrazabal burst onto the European Tour having won his card for the 2008 season. He’d win his 16th tournament that year, but in only his third event, the Joburg Open, he started the final round two shots off the lead and discovered just how surreal an experience being in contention can be 
”I played very badly. I struggled a lot. You can’t describe the feelings. You need to feel them. It’s something special that you can’t explain with words. You need to feel it and conquer it.”

Golf’s New Democracy

The reality is that, in the void left by Tiger, all kinds of golfers have been given the opportunity to work out how to win. Whether it’s rookie Keegan Bradley who, in less than two seasons, jumped from winning on the Hooters Tour to becoming a first-up Major champion or Harrison Frazar who in his 17th season as a pro finally figured out what all those people who told him he was trying to hard actually meant.

There’s Rory McIlroy, who has perhaps indicated that he has the mental strength to be the player that emerges from this confused period the way that the other Player and Palmer emerged from the late 1950s; given the way he bounced back in such a short space of time from blowing up in the final round of the Masters to win the US Open in such masterful fashion.
Then there are also some very talented young players who are just a step away.

”I’ve got to learn to win. Once I do that I can hopefully move on. I’m in the top 10 in the world right now and I’d like to win on a regular basis; that would be nice,” says Jason Day.

“It’s not technique; it’s just time and experience. I’ve come close a couple of times to winning Majors this year. It is a different experience. It’s just time and experience, getting myself into contention and being there, over time I’ll learn how to do it and once I do it hopefully I learn how to do it more on a regular basis. So far, it’s probably been a bit of inexperience; making wrong decisions at the wrong time. A bit of mental toughness would be in the little mixture of that. It’s just a bit of experience I need to have.”