So where were we?
Oh, yes, we were talking about how winning or losing, or in more general terms, success or failure, is a result of how the other guy does. You don’t have to play your best, or even that well, to be the one to whom the money is passed at the end of a round. You just have to play better than the other guy.
But there’s a lot that goes on during a round that suggests that this other guy has a lot of different identities. And, when you get right down to it, that Other Guy really isn’t the other guy. He’s actually different versions of yourself. That’s the real other guy. Consider the following:
There is that bit of conventional wisdom that says in order to win, all you have to do–most times–is shoot your handicap. Okay, but that makes shooting your handicap sound that playing your average game, when your handicap is based on a collection of your better scores. So, in this case, shooting your handicap means playing better than that dufus who posted all those higher numbers. You know him, right? Dresses like you, same swing, same pre-shot routine. Yeah, that guy. Play better than he does and you should do okay.
Or, there is The Other Guy as Hypothetical Guy. He’s not really a competitor. He’s more an aspiration, or more accurately a fantasy, and, as his name implies, you’re not going to see him out on the course. But he’s out there. The proof of his existence can be found in the reactions you see and hear when, for example, approach shots to a pin tucked in the back left of a well-bunkered green don’t result in a birdie putt of eight feet. Really, you’re surprised? Who did you think was hitting the shot? The only possible explanation is that you thought this was some of sort of scramble, and Hypothetical Guy–that impossibly better version of yourself–was going to stuff that approach.
Hypothetical Guy is like the golf messiah. We keep hoping he’ll show up but he never does. We want him to thread the needle, pull off that short-sided bunker shot, drain that putt. We want to play like Hypothetical Guy because if we could, then the Other Guy becomes our normal self, and we all know how easy it is to beat him.
Even the pros, apparently striding alone down the well-manicured fairways of their tournament venues, are accompanied by their own Hypothetical Guys. That’s who they’re thinking about when they arrive on the green of a par-five and see that their eagle putt is 20 feet, not five. But the big difference between them and us? Their Hypothetical Guys aren’t like a child’s imaginary friend. They’re more like gods out of Greek mythology. They actually can materialize and make lightning strike and cause miracles to happen. It’s when his Hypothetical Guy doesn’t show up that we see the anguish on a Tour player’s face after he hits a shot that any of us would find more than satisfactory.
And so this brings us back to where we started, The World Match Play Championship. In a fundamental respect the format wasn’t that different than the normal weekend on Tour. Everybody, pro or amateur, is playing against the Other Guy. You just can’t always see him.