A Lesson Learned: What you don't think about when you are going low

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Stuart Appleby never lost focus as he closed in on his record round.
Chip Sullivan, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, August 01, 2010 | 9:23 p.m.

The seemingly abundent number of low scores in recent weeks will trigger a flurry of questions from golf fans; most notably, are the players getting better or are the courses getting easier?

I think it's the former more than the latter, and there are other elements at play too that we should not overlook. The soft, damp conditions at The Greenbrier meant the world's best players were throwing darts at the pins. Anytime you give the world's best players those type of scoring opportunities, you're going to see some low scores. I've been fortunate enough to spend some time up at The Greenbrier and I can tell you, as much as we'd all like to have the course be this score-friendly, that's simply not always the case.

I talked this weekend with Lester George, the architect responsible for the renovation of this historic course and he explained it succinctly. The course's best defense are the green complexes, forcing you to avoid some of the new bunkers and the wrong tiers on the greens. But again, when they are this soft, and hard bounces just aren't a concern, you're going to see a lot of red numbers on the board.

The Greenbrier is the oldest course to host a PGA Tour event and has stood the test of time as one of the great layouts in the country. It's exciting to see the Tour return to such an iconic venue. And for Stuart Appleby to shoot a 59 on the final day to win by one shot, well, it just doesn't get much better than that. But back to the low scores we've been seeing on the PGA Tour.

This week's A Lesson Learned will deal with the number one mistake I see most amatuer players make as they start closing in on a good round.

The problem: They look at the scorecard. Think about it, how many times do you total up your scores and start plotting out what numbers you need to reach a scoring goal? Players do it all the time, whether it's a front nine number, a goal with four holes to play, whatever. People start thinking about scores and shots on holes that are half an hour away from them. That will not help you play better in the present, and that's all you can control. My advice is, don't let your head get in the way of a good round.

Golf is played one shot at a time. When Stuart Appleby made his ten foot birdie putt on the 17th hole, I noticed how committed he was to executing the proper fundamentals. On his putt, he did not look up until the ball was over halfway to the hole. The guy was on the verge of shooting 59, but he had the discipline to not look up to watch his ball track towards the cup! I'm sure he knew he was going low, but he didn't get caught up in the moment. That's how you make record scores.

When you are playing your best golf, don't allow your thoughts to get in the way. In 1996, at the PGA Tour's Qualifying School, I was having a great day on the second-to-last round of the tournament. I remember putting out on the 18th green and immediately looking for the next tee box. That was one of those days when golf seemed so easy and natural. I couldn't wait to get to the next hole, completely oblivious that I had played the last one for the day.

You may remember Anthony Kim at the 2008 Ryder Cup having a similar experience when he routed Sergio Garica 5&4. Sergio had his hat in his hand waiting to congratulate Kim on his incredible play. Anthony headed towards the next tee box until the crowd reminded him that he had won. That's focus. Everyone who plays golf has goals for their score. And when you get into a groove, don't let your mind disrupt what had worked for you thus far. It's one hole at a time, one shot at a time. That's what will ultimately allow you to get the most out of your game. Good luck!

Chip Sullivan is the Director of Golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Virginia. Sullivan, a former member of The PGA Tour, will be playing in his fifth PGA Championship later this month at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc. Sullivan was the low club pro in the 2004 PGA Championship (also at Whistling Straits) when he finished t-31st.

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