Big Play: Appleby's focus over final putt for a 59

Big Play: Appleby’s focus over final putt for a 59

Stuart Appleby made a 10-footer for birdie on the 18th hole for the fifth 59 in PGA Tour history.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

WHO: Stuart Appleby
WHAT: 10-foot, 10-inch birdie putt to shoot 59
WHERE: 162-yard par-3 18th hole at Greenbrier
WHEN: Final round of the Greenbrier Classic

I used to think that Vision 54, the concept and the name of the golf school created and run by Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson was a bunch of baloney. Shooting 54 just didn’t seem possible. But now I’m a believer. Lynn and Pia are focused on where golf is going. A few weeks ago, Paul Goydos shot a 59. Then Bobby Wyatt, a schoolboy from Alabama, shot a 57 in a junior tournament. And on Sunday, Appleby not only fired a 59, but he did it in the final round to overcome a seven-shot deficit and win.

What’s behind the low scores? Perfect green conditions are a big factor. Course maintenance is so far improved from just a decade ago, and greens, especially at tournament venues, roll pure as velvet. The Greenbrier was a classic example. The resort hosted the Tour event basically as a paid advertisement for itself, and they spent serious money to make the layout as good as possible, especially the greens.

On Sunday, Appleby took advantage of the smooth greens by draining 113 feet of putts on the 10 holes at which he made birdie (nine of them) or eagle (one). What’s interesting is that only three of Appleby’s putts were shorter than eight feet, so he wasn’t tapping in for his low scores.

The most memorable putt came at 18. Appleby knew exactly what was at stake. “I knew what it was all about. I knew I had to make it,” Appleby said. “I knew I had to make in for the tournament; I knew I had to make it to have a 59. I’m sitting there going, ‘How many opportunities are you gonna get to do this?’ But I still felt very relaxed.” Appleby stuck to his exact routine and drained the putt dead in the middle.

THE DRILL: Mind coaches will have a field day with Appleby’s amazing putt, because Appleby demonstrated to perfection how to execute despite suffocating pressure. He showed how to stay in the moment and stick to your routine, no matter the situation.

When I have to hole a putt, I focus on the memory of a good putt I’ve recently hit. I don’t think about the current situation, the ramifications of making or missing the putt or any technique. I just envision that good putt which I’ve recently hit.

I got that technique from Fred Couples after hearing how he described his ability to focus. Couples said that when he first worked with Bob Rotella, the mind coach, Rotella asked Couples what he thinks about to prepare for a shot. Couples replied that he simply thinks about the best shot of that type that he’s ever hit. For example, if Couples has a 5-iron shot, Couples envisions the best 5-iron he can recall.

The key is to focus exclusively on the shot at hand. As simple as that sounds, it’s the only way to play, especially when you’re in a pressure situation like Appleby was with a 59 and the trophy on the line.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Mark Wood teaches at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Far Hills, N.J.