I was looking back through some old notes and stats from some past golf tournaments and I got to the final match of the 2017 U.S. Mid-Am, which of course was one of the most important days of my playing career. When I started looking at old stats I was just trying to reminisce and catch a glimpse of what those rounds were like. But what I inadvertently realized once I saw my stats from my personal pinnacle in golf weren’t fond memories or nostalgia (and that isn’t because I got romped in the final 8&6). It’s because I stopped taking my stats halfway through my semifinal match.
It’s an innocent looking image, seeing stats for every match, and then seeing it stop on the 117th hole of the tournament, and then where the final 9 of that round and the 30 holes in the final would be the pages go blank. But that image tells a story. It tells the story of being taken out of my process when the pressure was at its highest.
The process of taking my stats for every single shot of every single round started about 14 months prior. My then instructor, now mentor, Robert Linville of Precision Golf School had introduced to me a more detailed way to track stats. Instead of just fairways greens and putts, there were details like “did I miss the fairway left or right?”, “was the lie good bad or no shot?”, “how long was my first putt?”, among others. These were of course excellent stats to track, but the process for tracking them was very tedious to me. I had to write down the yardage of every approach shot I hit and pace off every putt I had. And because I have a terrible memory I had to do this not just at the end of every hole, but immediately after every shot. And this went on hole after hole after hole, round after round after round, tournament after tournament after tournament. And I never wavered. I tracked every single shot.
The major benefit of this was being able to track in complete detail my progress from one point to the next. But perhaps an even bigger profit was the feeling of writing down what happened on the shot or the putt I just hit, and forgetting about it. Once it was on paper it was set in stone. There was no sense in thinking back on it. It was hit. It was written down. It was done. It was over. I could easily move on.
Once it was on paper it was set in stone.
People often talk about “staying in the moment” as not getting ahead of yourself. Not thinking about the future. But a less often discussed alternative to staying in the moment is going into the past in your mind. You go back and think about your last shot over and over and over, thinking how you could’ve done it better. Or even think about that shot six holes ago, or that shot on the front nine, or that first tee shot to start the day. But what if you just wrote it down and never had to think about it again. You let your little notebook have your memory for you.
So this is the point at which I arrived with taking stats on my rounds of golf. It went from a burdensome effort to a freeing process.
Now back to the 2017 U.S. Mid-Am. Just like every other round and every other hole for the 14 months before it, I was diligently tracking my stats after every shot, almost automatically because of months and months of habit. And it was so habitual that I didn’t even realize the benefit that it had over the course of the last year, and especially during the Mid-Am. Going into the final match I had played 125 holes, every one of them besides the most recent 9 with corresponding stats.
So I get to the first tee at 8 AM for that final match. My then girlfriend (now wife), multiple other friends, and my parents, had all driven or flown from all over the southeastern United States to come watch me. The U.S. Open and Robert T. Jones trophies sitting right next to us on the table. Every important figure from the USGA looking on. An invite to Masters looming. And of course Matt Parziale, the eventual winner, watching me tee off. So needless to say, I’m a little nervous.
But I play on. Things are going good, the match is decently close for a while, but Matt is playing lights out, and he starts pulling away. And my response wasn’t to focus more on my habitual process, to dig my heels in, put my head down, and stick to what I had trained to do. It was to abandon it altogether. I still never pulled out the notebook and pencil. Essentially I had decided for the first time in 14 months to not track my stats.
Now you may be thinking something like “so what, you were in the biggest tournament of your life and you just wanted to be present and soak in the moment. So you got your head out of your little notebook and just played.” That’s certainly one way to look at it. And that’s probably something like what went through my head in the moment. But when I heard myself say “this is the biggest moment of your golfing life! Forget about tracking and just play” I should’ve said “Yes! It IS the biggest moment of my playing career. And that’s exactly WHY I’m going to keep tracking my stats.”
Your honed and habitual during-the-round process might not be tracking stats, as multi-beneficial as it is. But whatever your process is, hang on to it in the midst of the most pressure packed competition like a house standing on solid rock in the midst of a storm. It will be your foundation when everything else around you can be chaos.