It’s the 18th hole. You’re up by one shot on a player who already has finished. Make a par and you win. And your best chance of making that par is to put your tee ball in play.
Do you …
Take your normal swing and try to hit a normal drive, the kind you hit 99% of the time?
Or do you …
Try something completely different, with a very different follow-through?
And then there’s this:
Do you make sure that if you don’t hit the shot properly, your miss doesn’t make it worse?
Such was the decision facing Mito Pereira on Sunday in the PGA.
We’ve all been there.
We know exactly what he was going through.
And I’ll bet that just about every golfer out there has gotten the exact same result at least once.
Pereira had been noticeably nervous all day, but he deserved a ton of credit for maintaining his one-shot advantage going to the brutal 18th hole at Southern Hills. That’s when he tried something that, if he’s thinking clearly, I can’t imagine he’d try again.
I get that he was trying to hit a low bullet, hoping that the shorter swing and follow-through would give him a better chance of putting his drive in the fairway. He had taken a similar swing earlier in the round.
But what got me was that he violated the basic principle I read in a Gary Player instructional years ago: You never try to curve a shot TOWARD the trouble.
The one place you can’t miss on No. 18 at Southern Hills is on the right. Even if you go left and can’t reach the green from there, at least your ball isn’t wet.
So I don’t understand why Pereira was trying to hit a cut. Sure, he’s a left-to-right player, but the pros can move the ball in either direction. He had done that earlier when the dogleg left called for it.
But more to the point for us amateurs is to simply try to take a normal, confident swing and give yourself some room in case you don’t hit it quite right.
There’s nothing worse than trying something you rarely do – you might not have even practiced it much – and then watching it skitter into the bushes or across the out-of-bounds line or into the drink. It’s such a helpless feeling.
As tough as it was to watch Pereira throw away a chance at his first major championship, I also thought it led to some of our great game’s finest moments.
It resulted in Justin Thomas proving that he was a worthy champion. When you come from seven strokes back by shooting your third 67 of the tournament and then make two birdies and a routine par in a three-hole playoff, you deserve to take home the trophy.
It resulted in Will Zalatoris earning respect for the way he handled the whole day. He didn’t have his best stuff, and it’s tough to imagine how that awkward, stop-and-go putting stroke is going to serve him well. But his poise, especially when he got up and down from the cart path on No. 6, was impressive.
And it resulted in Pereira graciously answering questions in the media tent afterward and several of his friends on the PGA Tour, in particular fellow Chilean Joaquin Niemann, consoling him.
Those all are things we can learn from. They are central to what golf is all about: victory over a tough course, respect, class and sometimes heartbreak.
So the next time you’re feeling the pressure on the final hole, play the percentages and hit the shot you’re most likely to hit solidly. Then live with the result, whatever it may be.
And no matter happens, handle it with class. In the long run, that will earn you far more respect than any shot you hit.