Sunday Nervous Sunday

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Its Sunday. Its a major. Youre in contention.
 
Even your nerves are nervous.
 
Phil Mickelson
The pressure of trying to win a major championship can get the better of even the best players.
Theres nothing quite like being in one of the final groups in the final round in a major championship. Its a feeling every player would love to experience. But one which not everyone knows how to handle.
 
How do you handle this, the biggest day of your professional career?
 
It varies from player to player. Its based in personality. It can depend on experience.
 
You ask a hundred different guys and youll get a hundred different answers, said Brad Faxon. I dont think theres any right or wrong way to handle it.
 
The waiting may be the hardest part.
 
Before last years U.S. Open, Retief Goosen was up before 8:00 in the morning. The 54-hole leader, he wasnt scheduled to tee off until seven hours later.
 
He said he tried to bide his time by playing with his son and watching movies: Alien 3 or whatever it was. Ghostbusters, he said with a laugh.
 
Jim Furyk tried a similar routine when he was in Goosens position a year prior.
 
It was a little tougher than I expected, he said after winning the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. The worst part about today was the 3:00 tee time, and waking up at 8:00, 8:30 in the morning ' trying to figure out what I was going to do to kill the time until 12:30, 12:45 when I wanted to leave for the golf course.
 
I watched a movie this morning. My daughter was running all over the place. But I was pretty much quiet, and I think my family sensed that I was tight this morning. No one really said a word to me, and that was probably all the better for me, because I was pretty nervous.
 
That same year, Chad Campbell found himself in the final twosome alongside Shaun Micheel at the PGA Championship.
 
Campbells recipe for wasting away the day is simple: I like to sleep as much as I can, he said.
 
But even he found his preferred method of killing time an impossible endeavor when contending on a major Sunday.
 
You have all that extra time to deal with, he said. Even I cant sleep that long.
 
That was Campbells first experience in such a situation, which means he may better know how to manage the day when it comes again.
 
Ernie Els has had plenty of those days. The first one came in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
I think I had a two-shot lead. Obviously, I was very nervous, he said. Youre always pretty nervous. Youre pretty tense.
 
Faxon also felt the nerves and the tension in '94, when he held a share of the 54-hole lead at the British Open. He couldnt keep his mind from racing that Sunday. He finished with a 3-over 73 and tied for seventh.
 
Youre thinking about the fact that you want to get out there and play. Youre thinking about how youve played. Youre thinking about what you want to do. Youre thinking about everything, he said.
 
At some point during the day, prior to actually hitting that first official shot, the nerves will subside. Theyll wear themselves out and need an early-afternoon nap. But theyll be back.
 
Because after youve settled down a bit, had a bite to eat, hit a few balls; its go time.
 
Then not only do you have to find a way to appease those reawakened nerves; you have to execute golf shots under the most extreme conditions.
 
Probably the most difficult thing about it is the emotion, said Sergio Garcia. Although you might be in contention, you might have a chance to win; youre going to get excited. But you dont want to get too excited.
 
Even the most experienced and accomplished players get overly anxious when trying to win a major championship. And even they cant put those nerves in a box and hide them away. Instead, theyve learned to try and embrace the edge.
 
I think that you never really get comfortable, but you start to enjoy the nervous feeling, that excitement, that uncertainty, said 2004 Masters champion Phil Mickelson. Instead of fearing it, you start to enjoy it.
 
Such a transformation can only come through experience. Thats why you expect Goosen to win come Sunday evening, and not Olin Browne or Jason Gore.
 
The former knows what it takes to win a major championship. He knows how to handle those nerves. He knows how to keep his composure. And he knows these things because he's experienced it all before ' time and time and time again. And he's overcome it.
 
Its putting yourself there many times, said nine-time major champion Tiger Woods. If you put yourself up there, youre going to have failures. But then again, if you put yourself up there enough times, youre going to have successes, too. The whole idea is to put yourself there time and time and time again. Eventually, the odds are in your favor.
 
The more youre in it, the more comfortable you get, said three-time major champion Vijay Singh. You get butterflies, but you kind of focus in on what youre doing.
 
Of course, experience in these situations is no guarantee for victory. Just ask Todd Hamilton or Ben Curtis or Shaun Micheel.
 
Nerves can be overwhelming. They can override all other faculties. See Tiger playing the final two holes of regulation in this years Masters. See Justin Leonard trying to close out last years PGA Championship. See Els and Singh and Norman and Palmer, and even Sorenstam at some point in their careers. Even the greatest of the greats had to let their nerves and the pressure of winning a major championship get the best of them at some point. Regardless of what we are led to believe, Jack Nicklaus didnt always make every putt he had to.
 
As Micheel, the '03 PGA champion, said: I think the fear of the unknown frightens all of us.
 
Its Sunday. Its a major. Youre in contention. Even your nerves are nervous.
 
Now how are you going to handle it?
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - 105th U.S. Open
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open