This past week, I had the privilege of caddying in the 2018 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship held at Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor Michigan. I caddied for a South African, Chris Williams, who has 16 professional wins to his name. Last week at the Senior PGA, Chris had his highest finish ever in a major championship with an 11-under-par finish which placed him T-6th in the event. Looking back at the week, I not only was able to rub elbows with some of the games greatest names to ever play professionally, but I learned how the best in the game prepare for a Major Championship. My time with Chris last week taught me what it takes to compete for a major and most importantly, how controlling your emotions can help you play your best golf and give you a chance to win your own major championship.
Even though I have caddied for eight years in my high school and college days, caddying in a major championship is a different animal. The venue, players, crowds – enough to overwhelm and distract almost anyone. The week started with two practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday – practice session in the morning, followed by 9 holes on the course and then leading to more short game work after the round. Something that stood out to me more than any was during the practice rounds, only one ball was hit off the tee and with approach shots, but once we got to the green, that’s where the real work started – examining different hole locations for the week, hitting different chip and pitch shots to different spots on the green – dropping balls in the bunker. At least 10-15 minutes was spent on each green to fully understand where to miss, where not to miss and seeing all of the various breaks in the green. Remember, score does not matter when playing in practice rounds.
Working with Chris on the range and at the practice greens was a lot of fun – watching his consistent ball flight and near perfectly repetitive swings would be enough to make any golfer envious. However, what I did notice is that he was not “working” on his swing during tournament week – rather than having alignment sticks out or various swing tools – he simply hit balls, got a good feel for his tempo and worked on hitting shots that he would face during the tournament week. Once you are at a tournament or event, that is not the time to practice, that is the time to play golf. Take the game and swing that you brought with you for the week and put it into action.
Once the tournament was underway on Thursday – Chris’s demeanor and attitude did not change from earlier on in the week. He had his gameplan of the course mapped out and it was a matter of putting the plan into action. My biggest job and goal was to keep Chris relaxed and to keep the moment of the tournament smaller than it was. Chris would make a few birdies in a row or a few bogeys – the mindset remained the same – play one shot at a time. Our emotions many times get the best of us out on the course, but if we want to play at the best of our abilities, we need to remain in the moment and focused on the task at hand.
We can all compete for our own Major championship – no matter if it’s your state championship, club championship or a round of golf against your friends. Preparing for the event is key, practice weeks/months before the event to ensure that once the week of the championship arrives – you can put your hard work into action. When playing the course for a practice round, don’t worry about score – focus on understanding the course, where to miss, where not to miss and the game plan you want for each hole during the week. Play your game and play against the course, and not against your competitors.