‘Let’s play simple’: 3 fascinating nuggets of wisdom from major contenders

Charley Hull at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

Charley Hull at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Three attitudes. Three situations. Three quotes that’ll make you think about golf, how they play it and how you might play it, too. And from three golfers who each could win a major championship on Sunday.

Here they are.

Charley Hull arrived at Sahalee’s 17th tee red-hot. It was Saturday at the KPMG Women’s PGA and she’d birdied No. 10 and then No. 11 and then No. 12; suddenly she was three under par for the day, four under for the tournament and had vaulted her way near the top of the leaderboard. The gallery around her grew and she’d missed the green at No. 16 but had saved par there, too, clanking an eight-footer off the flagstick and in; her pin-in putting is a part of her iconography along with her Malbon fits and the occasional cloud of smoke.

But then, as she stepped to the tee at the iconic 17th, a par-3 surrounded by water, an intrusive thought arrived.

“Truthfully, yesterday I hit a shot on the green 30 feet from the pin. Didn’t think nothing of it,” the Englishwoman said later. “My mate yesterday goes, ‘What happened to you on 17? You nearly hit it in the water.’ I was like, ‘No I didn’t.’

The strange encounter resurfaced as she considered her play. It took her out of the moment.

“So, got to the tee box and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I never nearly hit in the water.'”

Hull’s tee shot never stood a chance; the hole played some 190 yards but her chunked iron shot flew just 157 before splashing down short and right of dry land. She headed to the drop zone, hit the green and three-putted for a deflating triple-bogey 6.

“I just fatted it,” Hull said remorsefully. “Wasn’t even in the shot. It was annoying. It wasn’t like me. I played so well out there today, I didn’t do one thing wrong and got up and down when I needed to…”

Until the thought. And the shot. And the triple. That’s how 69 became 72.

The lesson? Don’t listen to your stupid buddies. Don’t focus on the water. Don’t let up, just because you’ve played 16 near-perfect holes. Keep the pedal down. Even a red-hot pro can let a strange, negative swing thought creep in.

“Yeah, but I’m still positive going into tomorrow’s round,” Hull said. She’s now six shots back but clearly in good form. “Anything can happen.”

Lilia Vu realized something as she arrived on property this week: Her typical shot shape wasn’t going to get it done.

The World No. 2 likes to work the ball from right to left; a draw is her bread and butter. But Sahalee’s bowling-alley fairways often demand a different ball flight, namely one that goes from straight to straight. So Vu has had to be adaptable.

“I’m starting to see the shots better off the tee,” Vu said after jumping back into contention with a third-round 68. “This course makes you hit shots both ways, and I think that was something that I had to learn pretty early on this week.”

A reporter followed up to ask when in her career she’d learned how to work the ball both ways. But Vu had meant “this week” quite literally.

“Honestly I think it was this week,” she said with a smile. “I kind of like to stay a creature of habit with my push-draw. Can’t really do that when it’s ten yards of trees right here off every tee box.”

Vu acknowledged that even when she tries to hit a cut, it’s “basically like a two-yard left-to-right movement.” A banana slice is not in her repertoire. But that two-yarder is getting the job done. And she’s getting more comfortable trusting it down narrow green hallways.

It’s part of a larger theme in her game: Vu is adjusting on the fly. Last week she returned after missing several months due to injury. Though doubt returned with her, she showed no signs of rust and wound up winning in a playoff. This week she’s contending against a field of the strongest players in the world. How to explain it? She cited her attitude. And her expectations.

“I’m relatively proud how well I’ve played the past two weeks,” she said. “Yeah, low expectations and I’m just out here appreciating the game more than I ever have.”

The expectation thing doesn’t come easily; Vu has always held herself to a sky-high standard. She knows in theory that golf is not a game of perfect. She knows she should give herself grace. Doing so is working. But it’s still tough to put that into practice.

“It’s not as easy as you would think,” she said. “It’s a work in progress. I feel like I’m battling that every week.”

The lesson: An open mind and low expectations are a powerful combination. Plus a two-yard cut off the tee.

Jin Young Ko stepped to the microphone after her second-round four-under-par 68, among the low rounds of the tournament. She was unimpressed.

“Yesterday was much better than today,” she said matter-of-factly. Her irons had felt iffy. Score isn’t everything.

It’s been a fascinating run of form for Ko, who spent several years as the most consistent player on the planet and set records with her stints at World No. 1 but whose form has been less reliable of late. She entered this week having gone four starts in a row without a top 10 — hardly a crime, but not something she’s used to.

When Ko addressed the press she had just finished a round in the same group as Lexi Thompson, whose following is as big as anyone’s in the game. A few times Ko heard cheers for herself amongst the chorus of Lexi cheers. She was thankful for those.

She was thankful for good golf, too. Here’s how she put it:

“I’m really thankful to be playing really good,” Ko said. “Because the last couple months I wasn’t playing good, so I practiced a lot and I realized: golf is not easy but it’s not too hard.

“Everything is from my mind. If I’m thinking, like, ‘let’s play simple,’ it comes out really well. But like, this golf course isn’t easy; this golf course is really difficult. So if I’m overthinking, the result comes out bad. So I’m trying to think easy.”

Ko only began speaking English in 2019; now she can describe the game of golf as succinctly as anyone.

The lesson? Just what she said. Golf is not easy but it’s not too hard. If you’re overthinking, the result comes out bad. There you go. Think easy.

And seriously, don’t think about the water.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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