May 28

Does a Great Finisher Have an Edge?

Finishing At The Top Often Seems to Produce an Edge

Do You Shoot Your 65 Early, or Are You a Finisher?

I’ve said it many times – predicting the outcome of golf tournaments is just as frustrating and slippery as handicapping horse races. The slightest change in the universe, and the results are permanently altered. However, it is also true that when a famous, big winner arrives on the first tee on Sunday, tied for the lead or just behind, he or she gets the edge in our minds. Do we simply believe that the one who is favored is simply the better golfer, pound for pound? Or, is there something else to it? We know some players who lay claim to being a great finisher by doing it so often. So, what’s the difference if you do your big scoring early in the week, or on Sunday?

I began to think of this hrough the weekend at the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My first question was, “Why are they playing a golf tournament in Ann Arbor this early in the year? Don’t they wait a while before heading north?” After that, the final round of Shanshan Feng triggered the idea of a “finisher rating,” even though this week’s tournament does nothing to prove or disprove the premise of my question. Feng, who I have characterized as a great finisher, bogeyed in to win. It was Feng and Lizette Salas leading the championship into Saturday and Sunday. I think the world of Salas, but why did I suspect that Feng would win this event? She went 68, 67, 65, 68, so the question of a stronger finish doesn’t compute this week. The whole four days was good. Plus, Lizette turned in an excellent round on Sunday as well. It’s not as if she chokes. It’s not as if either one lacks the qualities of a “finisher.” So why do I expect the big Sunday scoring surge from one over the other? Perhaps because I sense that Salas is a great mid-week scorer, and Feng does whatever is needed, when it is needed.
Golf Simplified logoThe feel of a four-day tournament is drawn to the first round as a “jockeying” day, and of course, part of jockeying through day three is “staying in it.” The second day, more than any other, often seems like the day in which the unknown, unheralded, or the one who hasn’t been heard of for a while suddenly emerges to take over the lead. Day 3 has a feeling all its own, and in some sense separates the excellent from the great. There are a lot of people on tour, probably all of them, that can shoot a 65 on any given day, but many of them struggle to break 70 in the other rounds. These, in my memory at least, often shoot their sizzling round in the first two days. Day 3 is an endurance day, and a different kind of jockeying. Much of the field is either going home or falling away on the leaderboard, and important and exciting duels begin to take shape for the Sunday finale. Salas has won some of these, but Feng is particularly scary on a one to one, when few others are relevant.

What makes a great finisher?Do they draw inspiration from adoring crowds, like Arnold Palmer did? He often came to life in such an electrified way that our old Motorola could barely make it through the experience. Lorena Ochoa could do it, and Annika was never out of it until she took off her shoes and left the course. Nicklaus was one of those frustrating opponents who simply wouldn’t go away on day four, and you could feel him wave as he passed you by on the way to the trophy. The whole point of that is to reiterate that Shanshan Feng is not only great at scoring, but is also a great finisher.
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The next question for me is, “Is being a great finisher a gift, a condition, a mindset, or a trainable habit?”  I tend toward the latter when i get the feeling about certain players. Lizette and Brooke Henderson may be in the process of becoming scorers and finishers, who can regularly deliver the winning blow on Sunday. Maybe it’s in the way pressure affects or doesn’t affect a player. For the present, though, I get the feeling that Shanshan Feng just isn’t afraid of anyone or anything. But let the scoring continue – we should know soon.

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