The Science of Second

By Rex HoggardJanuary 28, 2009, 5:00 pm
There is an Art of War, courtesy Sun Tzu, and an Art of Winning, courtesy Americas Cup skipper Dennis Conner. But nowhere in the vast libraries of sports psycho-babble has a thoughtful scribe penned a how to tome on the science of coming in second.
 
And make no mistake, it is a science.
 
Truth is, for those who elbow their way into contention at the games highest level only to fall short its a science of silence. Its an ongoing turf war to quiet the questions. Will I ever break through? What could I have done better? Was it nerves or circumstances or fate that cost me a photo op with the over-sized check?
 
On Sunday, Pat Perez answered all those questions with a towering 6-iron on the 90th hole at the Bob Hope Classic that nestled within 6 feet of redemption. That meltdown at Pebble Beach in 2002 is now history. Its a subject that the Tours non-conforming rock star has no interest in ever addressing again, either internally or from the dogged media who seemed to dredge up the episode every time he found himself within a chip shot of the lead.
 
If I got to answer any more Pebble questions after this . . . I mean, it's up to you guys, Perez sighed five minutes into his Hope post-game. I hope you guys will drop it.
 
Whether Perez struggled with the demons of Pebble or not is between Double P and his well-paid sports psychologist. Whether John Merrick, who bogeyed the 17th hole and parred the par-5 finishing hole on Sunday to finish three shots behind Perez, will struggle with his runner-up Hope showing is not much of a mystery.
 
Late Sunday, just hours after concluding his round at PGA West, the third-year Tour player joined a group of friends in Palm Springs for dinner. The group neither ignored the near-miss elephant in the room nor over-analyzed his best Tour finish.
 
There were so many positives for the week, said Jamie Mulligan, Merricks longtime swing coach. We noticed if we set up a compound and get comfortable with our surroundings, when we chill out he does a lot better.
 
Its sports psychology 101. Draw what you can from the positives and leave what remains to those of lesser resolve.
 
In practical terms, Mulligan viewed Sundays happenings as a once-in-a-lifetime learning tool. There is no way to realistically recreate the pitch that comes when playing for history on a Tour Sunday, so when you have the chance you draw from every ounce of the experience.
 
Your sitting heart rate is 70. If you could ever learn to play at 66 or 67 youd play unbelievable, Mulligan said. Most young players operate at about 120. To get in that situation gives him a chance to learn what its like.
 
There is a fine line, of course, between learning from history and being haunted by it. For most sports psychologists its expectations that dictate how players deal with disappointment.
 
I think it has a lot to do with how youre set up to begin with, said Sea Island (Ga.) Resorts Dr. Morris Pickens, whose stable of Tour players includes Zach Johnson. I dont talk to my guys about winning; I talk about getting into contention. Sometimes youre going to play well and not win.
 
Playing well without a trophy to show for your efforts is part and parcel of the pro package. For anyone not named Tiger Woods, any winning clip south of the Mendoza Line is reason to celebrate.
 
Success, at least in psychological terms, is measured in baby steps. What happens, more so than what was won, is more important to your average sports psychologist.
 
Guys learn from their tendencies. Some guys might try to get too protective and start guiding shots and some guys slow down, Pickens said. Its all about your tendencies. Ive had players that have been there and failed and then it becomes you want to be in that position again with an opportunity to pull it off or fail.
 
Do you want to have that chance again to win the game? Or do you not want to be there? You have to deal with it a lot.
 
Of course, failure ' particularly the high-profile variety that comes with booting a Tour title ' has no shelf life. Many point to Phil Mickelsons well-versed stumble at Winged Foot in 2006 as the ultimate case study.
 
Prior to Winged Foot Mickelson had finished outside the top 10 just twice in his previous nine majors, including three victories, at the 2004 and 06 Masters and 05 PGA Championship. In the 10 majors since that Sunday in suburban New York Lefty has the same number of top 10s and missed cuts (two).Those inside Camp Phil bristle at the notion that he is haunted by corporate tents and missed tee shots, but the results are unmistakable.
 
At an extreme level, some players say, I cant get over this, said Dr. Gio Valiante, whose Tour clientle includes the likes of Chad Campbell and Chris DiMarco. Golfers have experiences that they cant get over and there are a lot of reasons for that. The question is what they do with the experience the first day or two after that. If you drive that memory into your mind and relive it chances are it will resurface.
 
In fairness to Mickelson, his 34 Tour titles are testaments to his ability to close under pressure and his 21 runner-up finishes are well short of the also-rans posted by Jack Nicklaus (58) or even Woods (24). Whatever long-term impact Winged Foot will have on his Hall of Fame career can only be weighed after the closing credits have rolled.
 
Lacking a Second place for Dummies guide, the only slide rule capable of measuring the impact of Merricks Hope miss will occur the next time his name inches its way onto a Sunday leaderboard. When it comes to the science of second, theres no way to know what awaits Merrick.
 
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Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.