With the pandemic, the PGA tour has suspended any play for a few months. With that suspension comes no real-time golf tournaments. The good news is that the golf channel as well as other stations are re-playing final rounds from tournaments past. The better news is that we can learn so much from these champions, particularly their mental toughness under pressure.
Take the pre-eminent Masters in 1986 won by Jack Nicklaus. There are so many mental game lessons to be learned but here are a few:
1) On hole #15, Jack turns to his son, Jackie who was caddying for him, and says, “3 would go a long way.” What Jack is doing here is saying, “I am going to make an eagle and win this thing!” Jack is the master of positive self-talk and you too need to master this key mental game fundamental.
2) At the start of the day, Jack thought if he shot a 65 that he could win. He had a specific goal in mind which drove his focus and motivation. In fact, Jack was right as he shot a 65 to win by one over Tom Kite and Greg Norman.
3) Speaking of Greg Norman, he needed a birdie to win the tournament as he came up 18. Instead, he blew his 4-iron dead right and made a bogey to lose by one to Jack. This shows us that even the greats can choke under pressure. So when you do choke, and you will, give yourself some grace and know that everyone does choke under pressure at certain times.
4) Do you know who was paired with Jack on the final round? It was Sandy Lyle, and he won in 1988. Sandy learned from Jack how to play your best under pressure. When you watch these final rounds in the future, don’t just observe what the greats do under pressure, but emulate them!
Let’s fast forward to the 1995 Masters in which Ben Crenshaw won. Earlier in the week, his great friend and mentor, Harvey Penick died and on Tuesday, Ben went to his funeral. Perhaps it was Harvey’s angel that helped him win, however here are some keys that we can learn from this situation:
1) His death put golf into perspective. Golf tournaments are not life or death. I believe that gain in perspective took the pressure off Ben to win his second Green Jacket.
2) The mental game lesson here is that next time you are in a tournament that is important to you, keep it all in perspective. You will feel less pressure, and most likely, play much better when it counts.
Let’s fast forward one more time to the 2019 Masters, in which Tiger Woods won his 5th green jacket. This victory was one of the greatest career comebacks as we may see in our lifetime, and there are many mental game lessons to be learned. Here are two that standout:
1) It took thousands of hours to rehab his back in the gym as well as it took thousands of hours to rework his swing around his back issues. We only see the final outcome but not all the hard work. Nothing comes easy to anyone, not even Tiger Woods. Next time you do not play as well as you like, ask yourself if you paid the price of hard work.
2) At the start of the final round, Tiger was a few strokes behind the leaders. He made a few bogeys on the front nine, but as he said, “I remained patient”. In a lot of cases, when amateurs are not scoring well, they force the issue and go for too much. Be patient and let the score happen. It worked for Tiger and it can work for you!
About the author:
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a professor of Sport Psychology at APSU. He was voted by Golf Digest as one of the greatest sport psychologists. He has been the mental coach for the Vanderbilt Men’s golf team as well as the mental game coach for NCAA champion University of Florida men’s golf team. You can see more mental game tips at www.masteringgolfpsychology.com. Go to this site for your free mental game e-book as well as free vids.