I have written in my book about Golf’s Pyramid of Competitiveness where the symmetry between mental and physical skill and prowess impacts success in competitive golf. I still believe that Jack Nicklaus is the best player of all time because he was able to master the mental side of the game to maximize his physical skills to win where others could not. You had to defeat Jack Nicklaus; he never beat himself. Nicklaus victory at the 1986 Masters was a testament to his rise to the top of the golf pyramid at age 46. Tiger Woods had a chance to become the greatest golfer of all time but his physical issues impacted his performance. You have to have both physical and mental excellence to reach these levels at the top of the pyramid. Woods has had to spend the last few years overcoming injury and restoring his physical skills, but it won’t be enough until he can connect the physical side and the mental side. It might be possible for Woods to achieve greatness again but it’s a challenge that Nicklaus never really faced.
Justin Thomas seems to be rising towards the top of the pyramid. His performance on Sunday demonstrated execution that fellow professionals wouldn’t even try. Tied with Luke List on the 72nd hole of the tournament-Thomas’ tee shot ended up in the right rough which did not present an opportunity to go for the green in 2 on the par 5 so he had to hit a layup shot to the 75 yard mark. List had the opportunity to go for the green and he made it. Thomas had to get up and down and make birdie since List would have 2 putts for birdie. Thomas knocked a gap wedge to a few feet for a birdie to send the tournament to a playoff. Back to the 18th hole where Thomas’ tee shot this time found the right side in the first cut of rough with a pretty good lie. List hits his drive into the right rough and now he has to lay up–the exact inverse position of the players on the previous hole. Thomas had 248 yards to the green and didn’t even think about laying up–the crowd gasped as the shot crossed the water and landed on the green. List hit a poor layup shot and couldn’t get close enough with his approach shot to make birdie. Thomas made a three footer for his birdie and let out a “#$%@..yeh.” He didn’t realize he was being recorded as he let out his cheer. He later apologized on ESPN. In the fairway on 18, a heckler yelled out for him to hit it in the water and amazingly he looked up and told the fan “you’re outta here” and then proceeded to execute the shot flawlessly. It is amazing that Thomas was so focused on the task ahead that the heckling fan had no impact on the execution of the shot. The PGA ad phrase “These Guys Are Good.” was never truer.
Thomas now has 7 wins in his last 31 starts which is pretty remarkable as most players won’t have 7 wins in a career. This tournament was a grind with the wind playing a major factor. Tiger Woods continued his comeback trail and at one point on Sunday got to within to 4 shots of the lead before dunking his tee shot in the water on the tough par 3, 15th hole. Tiger was 8 over on the Bear trap holes-15-18 while finishing at even par for the tournament.
The absolute will to execute a shot under extreme competitive pressure is the hallmark of the top PGA Professional and a master of the Pyramid of Competition. Jordan Speith did it twice last year during the Open Championship on the 12th hole and also holed out from the bunker on the 18th hole at the Traveler’s Championship in Connecticut. Tiger’s holed pitch shot at the Master’s on the 16th hole is another great example of executing the physical and mental parts of the game at its highest level..