Learn­ing lessons of ‘play­ing within your­self’

Top lo­cal play­ers talk of know­ing their lim­i­ta­tions, sur­vey­ing sit­u­a­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTSBRIEFING -

You have prob­a­bly heard the ex­pres­sion a hun­dred times or more, of­ten ut­tered by pro golfers or TV com­men­ta­tors who stress how im­por­tant it is to “play within your­self.”

I’ve al­ways thought I had an idea of what that meant, but I de­cided to talk to some real golfers about the sub­ject. I so­licited opin­ions from sev­eral who played in the Cen­tral Texas Am­a­teur last week­end at For­est Creek. They all said sim­i­lar things, in slightly dif­fer­ent ways:

Mike Allen: “I think it is some­thing like choos­ing the right club for the sit­u­a­tion. It means don’t press and try a shot that you prob­a­bly can’t pull off. You have to make good mental de­ci­sions. Know when to lay up and when to go for it or take a chance.

“There are days when you have to ac­cept what you have and limit your losses. Like to­day (in the first round of the Cen­tral Texas Am­a­teur), I did not play well, and I shot 78, but it eas­ily could have been an 83.”

Grady Bruce: “To me, it means stay­ing out of your own way. By that, I mean know your lim­i­ta­tions. Let’s say I’m on a par-5 and I have 250 yards to carry some trou­ble to get to the green in two. I can do that, but it’s not a high-per­cent­age shot. I have a bet­ter chance for birdie, and less chance of trou­ble, if I lay up and wedge up and make a putt.

“It’s also in a sit­u­a­tion when I get off to a bad start, maybe three or four or five over on the front. Don’t try to make it all up in a hurry. You have to limit your losses. Re­al­ize that you don’t have your A game that day. Just stay with your usual game and get in the best you can.”

Billy Clagett: “I guess it would mean that you don’t try to pull off a fan­tas­tic shot that you may or may not be ca­pa­ble of mak­ing. Look at the sit­u­a­tion, and play the shot that you are most ca­pa­ble of mak­ing.”

Ni­cholas Cris­tea: “I’m not a long hit­ter, so for me it means to work on hit­ting a lot of fair­ways and greens and hop­ing to make a cou­ple of putts here and there. I can’t over­power a course. I have to play smart. So I will play con­ser­va­tive and take my chances when they come.

“That said, in a tour­na­ment it can de­pend on the sit­u­a­tion. If it’s the last round and I’m in the lead or near the lead, I’ll play con­ser­va­tive. If it’s the last nine in a tour­na­ment and I’m a few shots out, I’ll take more chances. I should have done that this year at the Fire­cracker.”

Steve Pater­son: “There are times when you have a shot that you know you can pro­duce, but the risk might be too great. It’s fine to play smart and con­ser­va­tive like that, but still there are times when you need to be ag­gres­sive. You just have to rec­og­nize the sit­u­a­tion.”

Trey Schroeder: “I think of it as con­trol­ling your emo­tions, and you can’t play good golf if you can’t do that. Also, you have to con­sider the sit­u­a­tion. You have to weigh the odds of pulling off a shot, con­sider the sit­u­a­tion and then make a smart de­ci­sion.”

One of my fa­vorite sto­ries that fits in this dis­cus­sion in­volves Michael Cooper and his record 17-un­der-par 196 to­tal in win­ning the 2003 Fire­cracker Open.

Cooper en­joyed a six-shot lead in the fi­nal round when he ar­rived at the tee for the par-5 12th. His drive landed in the light rough left of the fair­way, some 200 yards from the green. To reach the green in two, he would have to hit a slight draw and carry the pond that fronts the 12th green.

Cooper stud­ied the shot for a long time, and fi­nally opted to lay up. He then hit a wedge to the green and two-putted for par. Af­ter the vic­tory, I asked him about that de­ci­sion.

“That just killed me to lay up, but I re­al­ized that the only way I was go­ing to lose this tour­na­ment was to do some­thing stupid and make a big num­ber,” Cooper said.

“I guess I’m fi­nally old enough to use my head. A few years ago, I would not have given it a sec­ond thought. I’d have gone for it au­to­mat­i­cally.”

The Cooper ex­am­ple might not ex­actly be “play­ing within your­self,” but it is def­i­nitely play­ing smart and should be a les­son for all of us.

Jay Jan­ner

Billy Clagett, cel­e­brat­ing a birdie putt in the 2008 Fire­cracker Open, says it’s im­por­tant to know ‘the shot that you are most ca­pa­ble of mak­ing’ when a de­ci­sion is made on the course.

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