Juncture Situations: “Go Ahead, Make My Round!”

By Dr. TJ Tomasi College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research

TJ Tomasi

 

To be an average putter avoid three putts. To be a good putter you must learn to make key putts when you have the chance – here is where practice comes in. To be a great putter, you must make key putts when you don’t have much of a chance – here is where your mind-set comes in – like a world class diamond cutter with just one stroke to get it right, you need to be able to make the stroke under pressure. To do this, you must recognize these “juncture situations” (JS) and take advantage of them.

Success-at-the-juncture is a habit that you can develop by understanding the nature of juncture-situations, being able to identify a JS, and developing an intervention mindset designed to take advantage of a JS. A good example of a juncture situation occurred on the 17th hole on the last day of the 2005 Ford championships at Doral, where I was doing a clinic for the sponsor. The scene was electric, with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson battling back and forth. Then Woods, seemingly out of nowhere, runs in an unexpected 35-foot birdie putt on 17 to take the lead. Shaken but not deterred, Mickelson nearly chipped in for birdie on the final hole, leaving his effort one inch short. Woods then ended the battle with a tension-packed 6-foot par putt for the win, but it was the lightning bolt on 17 that turned the tide.

Exciting as it was, juncture situations are not always this obvious. During his epoch battle with Bob May in the 2000 PGA championship, Woods came upon a JS at the 15th hole on Sunday, proving that while all pars are created equal, some are more “equal” than others. On the last day, May outplayed Woods and had a chance to deliver a knockout punch on the 15th. Woods missed the green, and his pitch left him a wickedly tricky 12-footer for a par, while May stuffed it close for a straight-in four foot birdie. If Tiger missed and May makes (the most likely scenario) May walks to 16 with a three shot lead. In this juncture situation, Tiger curled in his 12-footer for a par, then May misses and goes on to lose the PGA in a thrilling sudden death playoff. It was “only a par,” but in a JS, it paved the way to another major for Tiger Woods.

So my advice is to develop the JS mindset, where, while you have no right to expect to make it, you expect to anyway. While the announcers judged Tiger lucky to make three from an almost impossible spot behind the 16th green in the 2005 Masters, Tiger said later he was thinking ‘if I hit my spot I can make this.’ He hit his spot, and, while the ball teetered on the lip so you could see the Nike swoosh, Verne Lundquist said in amazement … ‘in your life, have you ever seen anything like that?’ Tiger won by taking advantage of a ‘special moment,’ as did one of history’s greatest generals – Julius Caesar.

It was the Romans who developed the concept of the importance of special moments in a situation – a moment that could influence the entire outcome – and they trained their soldiers to respond to these special moments created by their generals during battle. Surrounded by 250,000 barbarians at the battle of Alesia in 52BC, 60,000 Romans were about to be slaughtered, when their commander, Julius Caesar, appeared in his infamous red victory cape that in a war fight was the equivalent of a 60-footer on the 18th green – The Result? Romans 1, Barbs 0.

Every athlete worth his or her salt will tell you that momentum is a fragile thing, whose ebb and flow can be courted but not owned. This is why juncture situations are so important; it’s like a boulder teetering at the top of the mountain. Your best chance to influence the direction of the rock is while its course is undecided; once it gets going, you’ve missed your chance to control the outcome.

Since they’re so important, in a juncture situation it’s not business as usual – you need to bring yourself to a heightened awareness at just the right time. You must learn to cruise along, then put it in high gear for the juncture situation, then gear back to normal focus. By definition, a junction situation is not a normal playing state, one you get in all the time. On the contrary; it’s a unique state that can be so exhausting that to stay in it for the entire round is debilitating. Please remember that you don’t drive the same speed on the curves as on the straightaway, yet both are equally important in winning the race. Thus, one of the greatest skills a competitor can have is to be able to throttle-up for short periods and then throttle back to an effective cruising speed.