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Monday, May 2, 2016

Is It Easier to Chase?

Since we have a Monday finish for the rain-shortened Zurich Classic -- and thus a Tuesday Limerick Summary -- we might as well take a look at a popular debate...

Gerina Pillar came up short on Sunday as Jenny Shin blasted past everybody to get her first win at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. Her 4-under 67 gave her a two-stroke victory over Gerina, Amy Yang and Mi Jung Hur.

Which begs the question... is it really easier to chase than to lead?

Jenny Shin with VOA Texas Shootout trophy

Gerina stumbled right at the start with a bogey. Her game didn't resemble her play in the first three rounds at all. And the weather made it tough -- of the four players who were chasing her, Yang and Hur could only manage even par and Sei Young Kim, who's considered a closer, was 3-over for the round. Only Jenny Shin went under par, and that by a lot.

I'm not so sure that whether you lead or chase makes a difference. Rather, it's your mindset during the round. Gerina might say the win didn't matter, but her tears at the end told a different tale. Players do press sometimes, whether they're leading or not. Judy Rankin said some of Gerina's club choices seemed conservative to her; perhaps that indicated an attempt NOT to press. But you might argue that the falloff in her accuracy -- both in fairways and greens -- was the result of more tension. And Gerina is also in the run for a position on the Olympic and International Crown teams.

Likewise, Yang and Kim were also fighting for spots on their national teams as well as the win.

Jenny was near tears as well -- tears of joy. But check out her comments after the win:
“I think I’ve been in contention so many times that I’ve kind of learned how to tune it out. I’m not sure I can repeat it exactly the same if I have a chance next time. I think every year I become a better player and I get a little bit more experience. And I think I’ve gotten a lot out of it every time I go through this, so hopefully next year will be better, the year after that will be better.”
Familiarity with the position is something players often mention as a factor in their first win. But Shin went further:
“I was chasing the leader all week so looking at the leaderboard didn’t get me nervous at all. I practiced a lot of three footers the first two days because I kept hitting it too far past, and I know that I’ve made almost every single one of them so that really helped me with my confidence and I had a lot of them coming down the last six holes. So as soon as I made the first one, I went okay, I know I’ll make the second one and make the third one so it was good.”
It's interesting to note that Jenny said on TV that she thought she was only ONE shot ahead while playing the 18th, so she should have felt MORE pressure there. But two of these comments jump out at me, comments which may help explain her apparent calm during the final round.
“I think I’ve been in contention so many times that I’ve kind of learned how to tune it out."
“I was chasing the leader all week so looking at the leaderboard didn’t get me nervous at all."
There's a running debate on Morning Drive about whether you should look at the leaderboard or not. Charlie Rymer advises against watching the leaderboard -- a position that many sports psychologists would agree with -- while many of the players insist that you need to watch the leaderboard so you can adjust your strategy in case someone 'makes a move'.

I confess that I have some problems with that last stance just from logic -- namely, if Bubba drives a par-4, deciding that I have to respond isn't going to give me an extra 30 yards off the tee. I'm either trying to post the best score I can or I'm thinking too much about other players' games... and not enough about mine. But there's an unspoken belief in BOTH of these stances that I believe is flawed, a belief that Jenny Shin doesn't have.

What is that unspoken belief? That looking at the leaderboard DEMANDS a response, that looking will either cause you to react in fear or somehow elevate your game.

Jenny Shin had neither response. She tuned it all out and didn't let it affect her strategy at all. In Jenny's mind, she was going to post the best score she could and the burden was on the others to beat HER!

It didn't matter to Jenny whether she was leading or chasing. What mattered was that she was in contention and that she trusted her game. Read her comments above once again; it's hard to miss that confidence! But it was a simple confidence, not some "I've got it now" bravado -- note that she says she's not even sure she could duplicate it next time. She knew her game was there this week and she could trust it, so the other players would have to worry about her -- not the other way around.

I don't think it matters whether you're leading or chasing.

I don't think it matters whether you have a big cushion for a lead or whether you're trailing by one or two or six.

I just think it's easier to win when your game is in good shape and you know it. Give me quiet confidence any day!

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