When Finishing Second is Just Finishing Second

Finishing Second a Step to Winning

The final board at the KIA Classic this past weekend was interesting, not only because Anna Nordqvist came charging out of the pack to win it with what we hear is her longer distance off the tee (about 13 yards), but because of those who almost won it, and those who hung around the top.

The upper part of the pack last Sunday featured players in different parts of their career, not in terms of age, but in terms of learning to win. Anna, of course, has won before, and once already this year. Things are clicking, and her mental outlook and process seems to be in good health. I don’t think of her as a flash in the pan, and we’re likely to see a lot more of her in the coming years.

lizetteBut what about Lizette Salas, who put together four beautiful rounds, only to come up one short? Is there something wrong? No, there isn’t. If I remember correctly, Lizette turned pro in June of 2011, which means that she’s doing precisely what she needs to be doing, learning to compete every week, and she almost always does. There’s no head trip going on, there’s no sense of “choking,” there’s no basic swing problem that needs a bevy of coaches – she’s just learned how to compete, and now she’s learning how to win. When I follow the standings each week, I have learned to make notes beyond the question of who won this week. I’m always looking for people who establish themselves as a consistent presence near the top. Lizette has flirted with victory before, and despite what must be some temporary disappointment at being closed out at the end at the KIA, it appears to me as though she’s right on schedule.

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Perhaps Gerina Piller is on this same track, but a little behind Salas on the calendar in terms of developing that winning presence. I’ve watched Piller on the pre-tournament range more than once, and see her demonstrating the kind of consistency that will one day pay off on Sunday. She has certainly learned how to play the game at a level of excellence, and now she is learning to become a force in the upper group. In my observations, I have noted how often she’s in the top twenty, often the top ten, and the frequency is increasing. I suspect she’ll be where Salas is, and soon. Then, who knows?

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Stacy Lewis finished at minus 8 in a tournament that was won by minus 13. She is a multiple winner who has arrived, so she can’t be very happy about what’s going on. Those stages of “almost” are over, and although nobody believes that a player will win every week, Stacy has finished second a lot more often lately than she’d like. She’s a championship golfer whose place is holding the trophy. For her, sometimes finishing second is more than just finishing second, and I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion going on in the Lewis camp on how to fix it.

lizette 2And there in the middle is Lexi Thompson, a little past Piller and Salas in terms of winning experience, but not quite enjoying a full breakthrough yet. Lexi has broken the seal on tour victories. She knows what it feels like, and she’s not afraid to do it again. Nothing going wrong there, either. The phenom years are not necessarily winning years, they are the “anticipation of winning” years, on the part of both the player and her fans. That’s over now, and she’s ready to really launch.

My theory is based on the fact that winning, almost winning, finishing second, and losing are fine gradations that can be found in a myriad of professions, and it is highly visible in this one. However, here are four players in different stages of the process who could tear it up when their time comes – just watch.

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