Especially when a major championship hangs precariously in the balance. Or when the biggest payday on the PGA Tour is at stake.
You can ask Grace Park or Adam Scott. Both faced six-footers Sunday on the 72nd hole. Six feet was all that stood between them and a glorious celebration. But ' six feet is also all that stood between them and instant heartbreak.
Miss, and they would have to go into a playoff ' Scott with Padraig Harrington, Park with Aree Song. Miss, and they have to play on, giving their opponents a clear mental edge going into extra holes. Miss, and you have to somehow, some way find it within yourself to regroup for the playoff. Miss, and you miss the best chance to win your first big title.
Park was honest enough to admit that she was shaking like a stop sign in a windstorm as she stood over the six-footer. Scott was just as honest, but said he thought only about pouring it into the cup. Both ways were successful, Parks bullseye for the Nabisco Championship, Scott for the Players Championship.
My knees, my arms, my whole body was shaking, Park said.
I don't know if anybody else is that way, but I remember every win that I've had. Seriously, I didn't know if I could start the club. And I guess it's good, because every time I'm like that, I do well. And I don't get that nervous very often.
Scott says he always was optimistic. Park was optimistic, too, but that did little to quiet nerves that were screaming inside her. The key for the 23-year-old Scott was thinking of another time, another place, another putt of about the same distance.
Once I knew the putt was pretty straight up there, said Scott, I felt really confident I could make it. I just didn't let myself think about anything else then but making the putt.
I thought of other times, I thought of actually the Match Play tournament, where I went extra holes with Robert Allenby, and he kept making putts in front of me to win the match in extra holes and I made them back on top of him - and that's what I thought over that putt.
Parks putt would have been a simple back-and-through motion if Song hadnt made a 30-footer for eagle just before she was supposed to attempt it. As it was, Parks effort now went from that stroke she had made all her life ' to one that was the ultimate knee-knocker. It wasnt as though she would attempt one from long range and then react with joy if it happened to fall in. This one was imminently makeable. But it was also ' imminently miss-able.
Grace didnt fool around with false bravado ' she had watched closely as Songs bomb went in. And it wasnt exactly what Park wanted to see. No false stiff-upper-lip hoping that your opponent played her best. Song made her 30-footer, and Park immediately felt like shed been stabbed.
I didn't block it out - I knew that I knew exactly what I had to do, Grace said. I watched Aree's putt, actually. I saw it go in the hole and then I knew that I really, really had to make my six footer.
And Aree's putt when your opponent makes a putt, you just have that feeling that she's going to make it. And I had that feeling that she was going to make that putt. And sure enough, right at the heart. And she's pumping her fist, you know. And I just got ready to putt mine and I did it.
For Scott, it was a little bit of dj vu. He could think back on old memories to help him through.
Actually, last year I hit it quite close on the 18th hole on Sunday in similar position, he said. It was a little shorter, it was probably five feet last year, and I kind of remembered that it was pretty straight.
But, you know, I saw a little break, if anything, going to the right. But I thought, This is your chance; let's take the break out in a nice firm putt and knock it straight on the back. And it was just perfect, that putt.
Park, who is 25 now, is steadily gaining experience with this kind of putt. Sundays was to win a major. But regardless, she says, it was a putt to nail down a victory, and such putts are ALWAYS nerve-wracking.
You don't think about what tournament it is, said Grace. It's about making the putt, it's about winning a tournament, it's about becoming a champion. It's like, I'm nervous because I want to win. I want to make that putt. And I want to win a tournament. And this one just happened to be a major championship - and a great one too.
Park made it. And Scott made it. Someday they may get comfortable with having to make six-footers for big wins. But for now, a six-footer is six feet of uneasy moments.
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