You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. After a couple of days of uneven golf, a big round looms. Butterflies flutter in your belly. As you approach the range to get loose, you’re overcome by an unsettling mix of optimism and uncertainty. Who knows what’s coming?
Pros feel that weirdness, too.
Ask Tyrrell Hatton. After a steady three-under 69 in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, the volatile Englishman’s next two rounds were anything but. In the second round, he actually scored one stroke better than his Thursday mark but said he didn’t hit the ball well; he just got lucky with his misses. “I think the score is pretty flattering,” he said. “I know that I can’t keep hitting it that badly certainly with it’s going to be playing much tougher this weekend.”
In the third round, Hatton’s misses caught up to him. Conditions were admittedly challenging at Bay Hill, but Hatton’s ballstriking was once again loose. After seven bogeys, he signed for a six-over 78 that dropped him eight strokes behind 54-hole co-leaders Talor Gooch and Billy Horschel. He did not appear primed for a Sunday charge.
That was the head space Hatton occupied when he strolled on to the Bay Hill range Sunday morning. Who knew what was coming?
For starters, one of the worst pull-hooks you’ll ever see from a top-20 player. It came on Hatton’s second driver swing. “I missed the 9th fairway left from the driving range,” Hatton said Sunday evening, recalling the incident with delightful candor. “I didn’t shout fore out of pure embarrassment that no one on a driving range should ever have to shout fore. That kind of shows you how bad it was.”
The swing epitomized what Hatton characterized, all in all, as a “shocking warmup.”
He seemed destined for another 78 (if not 88), but then the darndest thing happened.
“I don’t know what I found, but just started hitting the ball good again,” he said.
Hatton said he liberated himself from the horrors of his range session by having “one simple feeling.” He’s prone to leaning too much into his toes on his backswing, he said, so on Sunday he focused on keeping his weight balanced in the middle of feet. “If I can kind of keep my weight more centered,” he said, “then I’m more likely to strike the ball a bit better.
“I kind of just went out there with that thought. Today it worked. Some days it does. Some days it doesn’t.”
It worked, all right. During a brutally tough round, when the wind was swirling, the greens were humming and the scoring average was a meaty 75.481, Hatton offset four bogeys with seven birdies to shoot a three-under 69. The rags-to-riches effort rocketed him up the leaderboard; when the dust settled Sunday evening, he found himself in a tie for second with Horschel and Viktor Hovland, good for a cool $908,000.
“My job’s done,” Hatton said after visiting the scorer’s table, with seven pairings ahead of him still on the course. “I’ll just sit back and wait, see what happens, and we’ll go from there.”
A golfer’s job is never done, of course. Next stop for Hatton: the Players Championship, up the road from Bay Hill in Ponte Vedra Beach. The deepest field in golf awaits him. So, too, does more time on the range.
Hopefully without the need to holler “fore!”