Insider: Learning how to not try too hard has benefits for Perry, Hart

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PEBBLE BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Jeff Hart hits his tee shot on the second hole durng the first round of the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach at Pebble Beach Golf Links on September 27, 2013 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/GettyImages) (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

In sports, it’s next to impossible not to try too hard.

That’s what all competitors are taught from a very young age. Work hard, play hard. Be ready to give it your best every minute, every time.

But is it possible to try too hard? Especially in golf?

Jeff Hart wonders about that, and he’s not alone. It is something that is heard frequently from golf’s mental gurus who preach, Let it go. Let the game come to you.

Hart had an excellent tournament at the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. He tied for sixth, easily his best finish of the season. Hart’s iron play was crisp (81.94 percent greens in regulation) and his driving was accurate (92.86 percent fairways hit). Those are his high-water marks for the season.

The performance at Fox Chapel Golf Club came after a solid showing at the Encompass Championship a week earlier, where he tied for 15th.

“Finally learning to try less and less,” Hart said at Fox Chapel. “I think that's the key for me.

“I think we're all conditioned to try harder and in all sports you're told get in there, try harder, and certainly golf is no different,” Hart said. “But I'm just kind of letting it go right now and that's the key. If I can keep doing that, then I'll play well I think.”

Hart is 53 and has played golf for decades. So why does it take so long for athletes – in this case, a golfer – to learn that lesson?

“I think we're just conditioned that way. All sports,” he said. “We're sort of taught, baseball, football, get in there, try harder. The coach tells you get in there and work harder. You work so hard off the course that it's hard to all of the sudden step on the course and say, ‘OK, let it go.’

“You're just conditioned to sort of grind, I think, and work hard and it's a tough concept to grasp, to let go of control to get control.”

An interesting thought. Let go of control to get control.

“We're used to trying to control everything,” Hart said. “So that's been the key for me. Physically I don't feel like my game's all that good. I'm changing my swing every other hole out there like I normally do and the putting stroke doesn't feel anything great. All I can think of is I'm making a lot of putts and it's because I'm freeing it up, letting it go.”

Kenny Perry, who finally broke through at the SENIOR PLAYERS to win his first major title, adopted a similar thought process at Fox Chapel. The only thing Perry tried hard to do was not put any unnecessary pressure on himself, or at least more pressure than was already there in his quest of a Champions Tour victory.

Perry said after his stirring win at Fox Chapel Golf Club that he was “tired of worrying about” his failure to win a major title. Twice on the PGA TOUR he lost major championships in playoffs – at the 1996 PGA Championship in his home state of Kentucky and in 2009 at the Masters. Earlier this year, he let the Senior PGA Championship get away.

For Perry, his final round pairing at Fox Chapel was a striking example of what golf is at the highest levels. He played with Fred Couples and Duffy Waldorf.

“This game is mental; this game is very mental,” Perry said. “As you watched our group, we all hit it within 5 yards of each other, our drives were all the same, our iron shots, we played the same irons. We all putted about the same.

“It was just a matter of who out-thought who, who hit the shot when you needed to hit it.”

Perry said his ability to perform and to win in the crucible of a final pairing in a major championship is proof “you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

He’s optimistic that will benefit him the next time he’s in that kind of situation.

“I'm hoping the floodgates are going to open, I really do,” he said. “But I don't know. When I get in contention they're all tough, you get nervous and you get antsy, but (Sunday) I had a patience, I had a peace about me and I didn't really get ahead of myself out there.

“So if I can kind of draw upon this the next time I get into the heat of things, hopefully, you know, I'll finish it off like I did (at the SENIOR PLAYERS).”

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