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Like everyone else in the golf world, I had a blast over the weekend seeing how many of the best players in the world go out of their way to win a Green Jacket. As I closely observed their astounding swings and marveled at their prowess in the short game, part of me kept on looking for subtle clues as to what was happening on the mental side of the game.
Of course DJ played great. And the fact that he overcame the ghosts of poor performance in previous majors no doubt made the win even sweeter. But for me, three other things stood out as a reminder of what I should and shouldn't do the next time I have the chance to win it.
Here I must emphasize that I am not looking for a secret psychological technique that will allow me to win the PGA Tour … or even win another tournament at my club. I'm looking for insights to reinforce my fundamental goal of golf: to enjoy playing and playing the best I can, in that order.
With that filter in mind, I want to share the three elements that jumped off my TV screen during the Master's broadcast:
I have to admit; I feel a little sheepish writing these words … I mean … it's Rory McIlroy for goodness sake, and if the golf gods ever take a swing on Mt. Olympus, it's the affable Irishman. A relative hack like me pondering what Rory should or shouldn't do is kind of like making suggestions to Neil Armstrong about how he could have done a better job of walking on the moon.
Nevertheless, I was shocked when Rory threw his tee shot at # 16 into the adjacent pond, both by the shot itself and by his self-commenting "that's so bad".
Again, I am looking at this from my perspective. I am a club level golfer and I pay to play the game. And while I am a mental coach, I don't know Rory personally, so I can't say if his self talk helped or hurt his cause this weekend. But I can say this with certainty… a pattern of negative self-comments will drastically reduce the fun factor of the average golfer and often increase their score.
The Lesson: After a bad swing, shut up. Telling yourself it was a bad shot, or acting like Sir Nick and describing the false blow everyone can hear: "I hit it thick … I hit it thin … I didn't keep my head down" anchors a negative belief in your mind. Reinforcing that belief over and over will prevent you from fully enjoying your round and potentially posting a great score.
Bryson's Continual Frustration
I certainly can't blame Bryson for feeling dumbfounded at how things unfolded at Augusta. The clubs he hit on greens during his practice rounds made the golf world buzz, and you wouldn't have to be Sigmund Freud to conclude that someone brave enough to suggest his par 67 was no lack of confidence and there He was fully expected to club Bobby Jones' sacred job.
Given his expectations, when things started to go wrong on his opening round, Bryson predictably began a post-shot pattern, which included looking up and shaking his head in disbelief. Note … Bryson barely expressed his feelings … but because his body language spoke loudly to him (especially on Saturdays), words were not necessary. His mind would clearly receive the message that the Augusta National golf course was treating him unjustly.
It is a common behavior. Admittedly, I did it myself when the wheels fall off my golf bus. Look … I'm not saying that if you react with your eyebrows raised to a missed ten feet, your round will go off the rails. But if you get into the habit of reacting to a missed putt or a little setback with negative body language, you'll find it much harder to curb negative self-talk, and the combination will make it very difficult to have fun … or play well.
The Lesson: While it's not important to articulate negative emotions (see Rory above) and your playing partners will be grateful for your silence, not complaining out loud is only half of the comparison. If you want to turn your mental game into a force, you should also refrain from expressing yourself with negative body language during a round.
(I should point out that after the third round, Bryson revealed that he felt lightheaded, and that feeling continued on Sunday. Some of his nonverbal responses could be attributed to not feeling well, but again, This is not. It is not an attempt to determine Bryson's mental state. It is simply using what I have observed on TV to shed light on the mental play of average golfers like me.)
Tiger's Post Disaster Response
To say that the great Eldrick has given us some exceptional moments at the Masters would be quite an understatement. But I loved what he did on a Sunday afternoon because it's something I can match. If I faced the same dilemma when he walked to the 13th tee, I hope, unsurprisingly, to face such mental challenges with the dignity and positive focus he displayed.
To summarize… there he was, the big man himself, in his element at Amen Corner, tapping the 12th hole for a ten! What a potentially embarrassing moment. What an inconvenient time to – ever – get your highest score on the PGA Tour.
But what did Tiger do? Was he wallowing in his misery, blaming his caddy, the wind or his back? No. He focused on the next shot, taking one shot at a time and taking 5 birdies on his last six holes to finish in red. As he said afterwards, "You're alone out there … you have to figure it out … you have to fight … nobody's going to take you out."
In other words, Tiger took responsibility, decided to move on, and did just that. He didn't stay chained to # 12 while playing the remaining holes. And while I'm not familiar with his private conversations, I have to assume he didn't complain to his caddy Joe Lacava about the tee shot he flushed the third time he flushed, or the sixth shot he hit from the bunker at the back of the green and flushed again while waiting to hit his tee shot at # 16. When it was over, it was over.
In the past I have done the opposite. I've let bad holes spoil me in disappointment or frustration … and I often see many of my playing partners doing the same after a blown hole.
The Lesson: Any golfer can have a disastrous bad hole at any time. The moment your putt drops and the hole from hell is ready, you have to get it finished … because … if you can really put it behind you, you open yourself up to the possibility of one more of the eternal Experience the Truths of Golf – Any golfer can have a great hole at any time.
About the author
Kent Osborne has professional experience as a mental coach for professional athletes and business leaders. His current passion is golf. You can read more about his coaching at scratchattitude.com, or on Twitter @scratchattitude