Every win is tough. No matter the level of competition, coming down the stretch, trying to close out a victory, requires fortitude, discipline and the willingness to fight the ongoing battle within your own mind.
But, there are two wins that separate themselves, that are even more difficult than the rest. The first one is the first win - the maiden victory, be it as a junior, a college player, or a professional. Getting that first win requires a level of performance and brings with it a level of pressure you cannot imagine until you are in the moment.
Equally difficult is the tournament that you lead wire-to-wire, in part because ebbs and flows in the game almost always dictate that a hiccup is coming. Also, the longer you lead, the greater the expectation that you should win.
Bronte Law knows those scenarios and the feelings they churn up. She lived them both the same week, last May at the Pure Silk Championship presented by Visit Williamsburg. That week, at the Kingsmill Resort, Law led after the first three rounds and entered the final day battling a field of great players. But her toughest opponents were Doubt and Expectation.
“Obviously, winning requires self-belief that we humans often lack in ourselves,” Law said a year later when recalling the week that changed everything in her career. “At the first round in Kingsmill, I told myself to keep pushing, keep building throughout the week. It was pretty cool to go out from the start and never really let up. That’s something that doesn’t happen often but it’s my mindset and the way I am wired. Once you give me that sense of winning, I’ll do everything to keep that feeling and finish it off.”
Law arrived in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia on something of a high. During her previous start at the MEDIHEAL Championship in San Francisco, she was deep in the field before firing a final-round 65 on the difficult Lake Merced golf course. That gave her the clubhouse lead, which she held for 2½ hours before being tied by Sei Young Kim, who ultimately won in a playoff.
“I only took good things from that Sunday (in San Francisco),” Law said. “Obviously coming back from way deep in the field to be in a playoff was special. Waiting around for a little more than two hours for a playoff with the temperature dropping was not ideal. It made it difficult to come out of the gates hot.
“But, that week, I taught myself that you’re never really out of a tournament. If you’re playing on Sunday, you have a chance. You can put yourself in contention. That is something I have carried with me ever since. Even if you’re not playing your best golf, which I wasn’t at the start of that week, it only takes one good round to get you in contention.
“It also put me in a position where I truly believed in myself. I think that’s the thing that holds a lot of people back. That realization helped me take the next step.”
The next step came in the next start along the shores of the James River where Law opened with a 65 to share the early lead with Jennifer Song and Anna Nordqvist. Law followed it with a Friday 68 to remain tied with Song going into the weekend. A 67 on Saturday gave Law a one-shot edge over Song and Brooke Henderson.
That’s when the battle truly started, not with the other players, but with herself.
“You can’t look at the big picture too much,” Law said. “You ideally take each shot as it comes. That week, I did that. Certainly, when you’re in contention and coming down the stretch, it’s important that you realize that the next shot is the most important. I did a good job focusing on hitting the best next shot that I could instead of worrying about overall outcome.”
Trouble came in the middle of the final round when her driver seemed to abandon her. Nerves will do that. A quicker heartbeat, a faster tempo, and before you know it, you can’t square the clubface and shots fly high and right.
“It’s difficult in the middle of the round when you can’t get rid of a miss,” Law said. “For me, it’s about blocking those bad shots out (of your mind) even when they happen repeatedly. I try to step onto the tee and think good swing thoughts and positive results no matter what has happened in the past.
“But I hit three or four bad (drives that Sunday) and decided to take out 3-wood and have a different thought, a different look, because I knew that I would need my driver coming near the end, especially at the par-5, 15th, and on (the par-4) 16.
“I hit really good 3-wood on 12 and ultimately that gave me my confidence back. Then on 14, 15 and 16, I felt settled. When it comes in the middle of the round, you don’t really want to be hitting 3-wood, especially on par-5s when they’re reachable. But that helped me. I really was able to take each shot as it came the way in. I pushed those driver swings to the back of my mind and finished it off.”
She finished with a great birdie at 16 and two solid pars at 17 and 18 for the win, a wire-to-wire victory that changed her life and her perspective.
“The emotions were really overwhelming,” Law said. “You play golf your whole life. You dream of being on the LPGA. We all have goals and work really hard and when I rolled that (last) putt in, the realization came to me that I was an LPGA Tour winner.
“It was surreal. I kept getting flashbacks to when I was younger, watching the Open Championship and all the great players. To be able to join an incredible group of women as an LPGA Tour winner was absolutely incredible.
“I try to learn from all my experiences on the golf course. Even when I have a week when I don’t finish well or if I miss the cut, there are experiences that I try to take away, both good and bad. I write those things down and reflect back on them. There is always a lesson to be learned from every experience.”
The Pure Silk win added to that diary.
“For me, it’s the realization that I’m good enough to compete with the best. When you work hard, you increase that level of expectation. I realized that when I’m playing well, I can compete with the best in the world.
“I carried that with me. It made me realize that I was in the right place.
“No one can take that away from me. That is really special.”