Lesson Learned: Play Your Game

By Patrick Jones
Published on
Lesson Learned: Play Your Game

It’s always fun to watch the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. In addition to seeing your favorite tour pros, you have the spectacular beauty of Pebble Beach – views I am fortunate to see every day as the PGA Head Professional at Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Clubs on the Monterey Peninsula – and, of course, you have some great celebrities.

Who doesn’t enjoy seeing Bill Murray yuk it up with the crowd? And actors like Chris O’Donnell and Oliver Hudson have pretty good golf swings. There was Wayne Gretzky playing with Dustin Johnson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson playing with Oscar-nominated actor Andy Garcia. It was great fun to watch.

Playing in it is another matter.

For the pros, the trick to having a successful week at Pebble Beach is to forget about the sideshows. There are going to be shanks and tops and two-foot putts that run 10 feet by the hole – shots that tour players don’t normally see beyond their Wednesday pre-tournament pro-ams. Plus, you have Ray Romano cracking jokes and Jim Harbaugh getting 49er cheers from the gallery, none of which happens week-in and week-out on tour.

In order for the pros to succeed, they have to tune out all the distractions and play their own games. It would be easy for them to watch the amateurs and subconsciously play down, perhaps not to their level but not to championship standards, either.

The amateurs face a different problem, but one that has a similar solution. They tend to become too self-conscious and nervous about their games, so they get out of their routines. Some of them slow down, taking two or three extra practice swings and discussing wind direction with their caddies, even though they might not get the shot in the air.

Others speed up in an attempt to get out of the way. They walk faster, swing faster and pick up their balls faster because they don’t want to disrupt their partners. Unfortunately, that usually leads to them playing worse than normal.

The amateurs would be better off if they enjoyed themselves between shots, but stuck to their normal routines when it’s time to play.

The key to playing well through distractions is to stick to your game. If you normally take two practice swings and two waggles before every shot, don’t change just because you’re playing with a tour pro or a celebrity, or even your club champion.

Whether you’re on the cliffs of Pebble Beach or the first tee at your local club; whether you’re playing with Bill Murray, Brandt Snedeker or Bill and Bob from your regular foursome, you will play better if you stick to the same routine.

Focus on playing your game no matter what the circumstances. If you do, you’ll enjoy the special places and people you encounter through golf a lot more.

Patrick Jones is the PGA head golf professional at Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Clubs in Seaside, Calif.