How the US Open Challenges Golfers’ Minds

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — Now to the golf, in which a bunch of perfectionists will play an event long proud of its peerless punishment of imperfection so that the perfectionists must make some kind of peace with their imperfections.

What a concept, the US Open.

As its 122nd edition hits the Country Club, where the US Open stops by only every now and then — 1913, 1963, 1988, 2022 — men’s golf finds itself with four lions holding the four major titles. And it finds itself with four lions who can attest to the hard navigation of their own heads and how the best navigator should win here.

Defending US Open champion Jon Rahm of Spain and Arizona State, still 27, can tell about the oddity of watching video and seeing a different round of golf than he thought he played at the time. He shot that closing 67 last June at Torrey Pines in San Diego, and he made those two closing, curling birdie putts of 24 and 18 feet, and he thought he might have fashioned something near-immaculate.

Key lesson: He hadn’t, quite.

“It’s easy to think you need to be playing perfect golf,” he said here Tuesday, “and I remember watching my highlights from Sunday last year, and I thought I played one of the best rounds of my life, and I kept thinking [when watching], ‘I cannot believe how many fairway bunkers I hit that day, how many greens I missed and how many putts I missed.’ You know, it’s golf, and that’s how it is. You truly don’t have to play perfect, and that’s, I think, the best lesson I can take from that.”

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Reigning British Open champion Collin Morikawa of California and the University of California Berkeley, still 25, can tell about recent rounds in which he almost doesn’t recognize Collin Morikawa. His scorecards haven’t recognized the two-time major winner, either.

From a closing 67 to finish fifth at the Masters, the bright light from suburban Los Angeles has gone on a binge of bust by his standards (but a bonanza for many): tied for 26th, tied for 29th, tied for 55th at the PGA Championship, tied for 40th, cut at the Memorial.

“There’s been a couple of rounds over the past couple of months that I’ve just kind of shut off [caddie J.J. Jakovac] and just hit my shot, do everything in my head,” Morikawa said here Tuesday. “That’s not me. I think I’m normally a pretty happy golfer. I like to smile out there. Yeah, it definitely affects your mood, and it’s frustrating because I do want to be consistent. It’s not what I’m thinking about. I think it just goes back to I felt like my prep was good, and it just didn’t turn out that way. Sometimes when you think you’re going to do everything right, it just doesn’t happen.”

He says everybody talks about small things, but actually it’s really about small things.

“Acceptance,” he said. “We are the best golfers in the world, and we set ourselves to high standards. Sometimes when you don’t perform the way you want to, you can get upset. It can be frustrating. That’s how it’s been recently. You just have to accept that you’re going to hit bad shots.”

When watching golf, then, imagine the giant pile of little things in addled minds.

“There are so many little things that aren’t said or heard or no one else would know other than yourself, but that’s the thing,” Morikawa said. “It’s the small things that really make a difference. You always hear that, but that’s what really happens — that’s what it takes to win majors.”

Reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the University of Texas, still 25, speaks with something that looked an awful lot like perfection lodged in his recent memory. Between Feb. 13 and April 10, he won four of the six events he entered. Golf has never really tolerated such things across the months, except from Tiger Woods several times.

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Scheffler had the anti-perfectionist good sense to laugh at his own closing double bogey at the Masters, but then he became the fifth golfer in the past four years to miss the cut in the ensuing major after a major title.

He speaks from a perch of knowing it’s not all so drastic.

“I’m not going to sit there and be like: ‘Oh, my gosh, how did this happen? How could I ever miss a cut? What’s going on?’ ” he said Tuesday. “Just sitting back and looking: ‘Well, I could have approached this differently. Mentally, I could have been a little bit different approaching this shot’ — and it’s more stuff like that versus: ‘I missed the cut; what am i doing out here? I got all these things to work on.’ It was more just sitting back and saying, ‘You know, I could have been better mentally here and there, and other than that, that could have changed the tournament for me.’ Just little changes. It’s nothing big.”

Reigning PGA Championship champion Justin Thomas of Louisville and the University of Alabama, still 29, speaks not so long after lurching from eight shots behind to win that PGA last month in Oklahoma and not so long after dueling with Rory McIlroy last weekend at the Canadian Open . Thomas tells of the very struggle that will determine the winner on the exacting fairways and in the chastening rough here in the old shadows of Boston.

“It’s when things start going south or maybe you get a couple bad breaks or you get some wind gusts, whatever it is, to where you just get thrown some adversity, and it’s like, ‘How are you going to handle it?’ ” he said here Monday. “Those are the times, especially in a major, that I’ve learned that I become a little impatient. I almost try to force the issue sometimes. At the end of the day or at the end of the week in a major, that’s how a lot of guys are going to end up losing the tournament. I’m trying to get to a point where I don’t do that anymore.

“I wish it was that easy to be able to say, ‘I’m going to stay perfectly in the present and in the moment, and I’m not going to let anything affect me’ — but it’s not that easy. So you just kind of have to make way with whatever you have.”

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