Armchair Golf Pro: The Arnold Palmer, Laird, Bay Hill

The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events. Like you he is watching TV from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also observing lessons that can be used to play better golf.

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 26:  Martin Laird (L) of S...

Getty Images via @daylife

Martin Laird emerged as the victor in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill with an 8-under total. I say emerged because even though he started the day two shots in the lead he looked like a train wreck for most of the early round. He missed fairways, he missed putts, he dumped it in the water, and by the 11th hole he was five over par. His 2-shot lead had turned into a 3-shot deficit and even the TV commentators had written him off.

But sometimes all it takes is a little luck to get you back into the present and focused on the task at hand. Laird got some on the par-5 12th hole.

Laird hit his drive into a fairway bunker. He elected to hit his second shot with a fairway wood – always a dicey choice from the bunker. Although he picked it clean off the sand, the ball nipped the lip of the bunker as it flew out.

Now Laird’s ball could have gone anywhere after it hit the lip. I don’t know about you but when my ball hits the lip of the bunker coming out it seldom winds up any where near the green. It seems the golf gods were smiling on Laird at that moment, however, because his ball flew all the way to the green to end up on the back edge of the putting surface. He two-putted for birdie to stop the bleeding, and that got his game back on track. Laird hung on for the rest of the round while Steve Marino – who had taken a 3-shot lead – got exactly the opposite kind of luck, and by the end Laird beat Marino by one shot.

So give credit to Laird for hanging in there, managing his misses, and sticking to his business – hitting one shot at a time.

I make the contrast with Spencer Levin, who played with Laird in the final group. I like Spencer. He’s from my neck of the woods in Northern California and I got a chance to watch him play as an amateur. I know a bit of his back story, and I’m rooting for him. He’s got a lot of talent. But he also plays with a lot of emotion.

Emotion can be a good thing or a bad thing – it depends on how you let it affect your game. Positive emotions are good. They keep us interested in the game and help us get into the zone of playing well. Negative emotions can hurt, particularly when they pull us out of the moment. The challenge with negative emotions is being able to let go of them.

You can’t stop negative emotions from happening. You can’t win that battle. We all get upset or angry with ourselves or with shots from time to time, and the emotional reaction happens so quickly there’s no way to prevent it. Go ahead and be angry.

What you can control, however, is the duration. Be angry, but give yourself a time limit like 6 seconds or 6 steps. Then learn to let it go.

If you carry the negative emotion into your next shot then part of your awareness is still dwelling in the past. After all, there is nothing you can change about the prior shot. If you are still thinking about it or reacting to it you are still back there … in the past. And since one of the critical components of peak performance is being centered in the here and now, totally absorbed with the current shot, any attention you pay to a shot in the past sacrifices your performance in the present.

Spencer is learning this lesson. He had a good example this week in Laird, who didn’t play well, but kept himself centered in the present. Laird had every bit as much opportunity to be upset with his game. But he demonstrated the ability to re-focus and bring himself back to the current shot. It earned him the victory. Levin didn’t; he allowed his emotions to interfere and dropped from 2nd to 6th (a lesson, by the way, that cost Levin $440,000).

So the Armchair Golf Pro will be making a new entry to the notebook to remember the next time the golf gods play havoc with his game: let go of the past and keep it centered in the present.