Im Wins Honda with Good Nerves

Sungjae Im Follows Jack’s Advice, Wins Honda Classic

Everything about the Honda Classic played this past week was interesting. That includes the course, the top three players, and the broadcast booth. A particularly qualified analyst was brought in to discuss the day’s events. Jack Nicklaus donned the headset, and his advice couldn’t have been better. One player, Sungjae Im, must have been listening. He went out and proved it by winning the tournament at the end through good old-fashioned nerves.

Jack’s advice was especially apropos for this course. There wasn’t a single hole that let anyone off the hook. There was no, “Whew! I got through #10, I’m home free.” For an amateur observer, I was exhausted seeing them all get through it in one condition or another.  Oh, and the advice? Play within yourself, stay disciplined and let the rest of the field shoot themselves in the foot – at least that’s the way I interpreted it.

I thought that Canadian Mackenzie Hughes was going to be the one to bear out the Bear’s words., despite Im’s ever so slow, disciplined  and unruffled back swing. While Tommy Fleetwood struggled to get that defining shot that would propel him forward to his first PGA victory, it was Hughes showing the cool discipline at first. When he holed out from a bunker late in the day, I actually said to myself “That’s going in” before he struck the ball. No, I’m not psychic. Hughes was in the groove.

However, the game and the course got to him at the end, and he had to settle for a high finish. Then, there was a classic showdown between a seemingly uptight Fleetwood attacking with an undeniable talent, and Im, who looked as if he were speaking softly to himself the words of Jack – “Play within yourself, let the others self-destruct.”

There isn’t just one personality type that is more successful in pro golf than any other. At times, the belligerent, or at least wired and keyed up win the day. On other occasions, the zen types triumph. This was not a course, however, where the winner reaches the end with a long birdie blitz, although there many to be had. The trophy went to the one who brought the least amount of damage onto himself through better concentration.

Of course, today marks the next round of “What’s the matter with Tommy Fleetwood? What does he need to do in order to break through?” Climb the highest mountain in Nepal and speak to the guru, and we, the armchair golf analysts would surely be disappointed. He might just say “Fewer strokes…you need to do it in fewer strokes.” My point is that there’s really nothing wrong, and anyone who appears high on the leader board with such consistency is going to win one of these days, dollars to doughnuts. Still, a little of the meditative quality Im projected might have helped, especially at the end. Fleetwood came back valiantly with a gorgeous touch putt for birdie to come within one, and then put a fairway food out in the pond at 18, in one defining attempt to reach the green for birdie.

It was fun to see Jack talking about the game and the day.  At 80 years of age, he looks hale and hardy, and his brain still works great.; His wife Barbara, also reaching a round number of years, was interviewed during an intermission, and this couple is still crushing it.

I’ve always been terrible at guessing peoples’ ages, and especially so with Im. He is 22, but his game looked like that of a wily old veteran. He has played an enormous number of tournaments in the past two years to get it that way. Fleetwood and Hughes are both 29. They have all won before, but not on the PGA…yet.

The Honda was certainly no easy place for getting that first victory, but the tour moves on to the Arnold Palmer, and the next opportunity. That means there’s another week to rewind the tape and listen to Jack.

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