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Own Your Game by Cindy Miller: Be confident − but realistic

Every shot makes somebody happy. Why not let it be you?

How well are you able to focus on the task at hand? Are you able to prepare, plan and produce the shot you envision? How well do you handle adversity? Are you able to detect your mistakes, respond, and recover? The game of golf will teach you many lessons about yourself. The question is, “Are you open to learning them?”

The best example of learning the lesson was displayed at this year’s U.S. Open, when Dustin Johnson showed us what staying in the present moment means. After multiple losses at “majors,” Johnson was challenged by what many other tour players believe was a delayed and “bogus” ruling by the USGA. Johnson stayed the course and finished the tournament with a spectacular birdie on the 72nd hole to win by three.

Dustin earned praise and congratulations for his performance at Oakmont from some of golf’s greatest legends, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. But, maybe the one that meant the most to him came from “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, the father of Dustin’s fiancée Paulina. ou see, all of these sports legends were well aware of the magnitude of the test and how well Dustin was able to confront the challenge and defeat his personal demons to get the job done.

The Twitter feeds were blowing up during the telecast. Many PGA Tour stars were weighing in.

Rory Mcllroy tweeted, “This isn’t right for anyone on that golf course. If it was me, I wouldn’t hit another shot until this farce was rectified.”

In an interview Jordan Spieth said, “I think that what Dustin did was extremely special given that circumstance. I would have thrown a fit. I promise you, I would have thrown a fit. I wouldn’t have hit another shot. I would have sat there like this is not the way this goes. Let’s figure this out right now. You can’t have a potential penalty or not. You’ve got to know in that case.”

Clearly this is evidence of the different behavior styles we have discussed in our previous articles. Rory and Jordan are more outwardly driven and determined, where Dustin is more subdued. How they all handle adversity is openly revealed.

What are the steps that need to be taken to perform to your potential and handle the pressure?

• Realistic expectations − Do you possess the skills needed to accomplish the tasks? Many of us believe we are better than we really are. Are you willing to look in the mirror and see the truth? Make a plan to play the course to your skill level. If you can only hit the golf ball 150 yards, then play for bogey and double bogey. If you can’t hit your driver straight, use your three wood or a hybrid to tee off. Stop the pain!

• The present moment − Are you able to stay in the present moment and not think about the past or the future? Many times my students tell me they blow the last two holes when they add up their score and realize if they just bogey the last two holes, they will shoot the lowest score of their life. What happens? They blow the last two holes. They go from a pursue mindset to a protect mindset. Big Mistake. Huge mistake! Being in the present moment means tuning out distractions and paying attention to what is important now.

• Learn from the past to stay in the present − Once you blow your round a few times, you have the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. When you want the present to be better than the past, it is time to learn from the past. As Spencer Johnson says in his book, “The Present,” “You cannot change the past but you can learn from it. When the same situation arises you can do things differently and become more effective and successful.” This was so obvious in Dustin Johnson’s performance. He had to lose to learn to win. So do you.

• The Committee of “They” − Everyone is watching but no one is looking. People often tell me they are petrified on the first tee. They are so fearful of making a fool of themselves they are not able to focus on the task at hand. One thing I use to do on the LPGA Tour is to pretend the people in the gallery were trees which helped define the boundaries of the fairway. People are watching you, but they really are not looking. The people that are watching you are typically more worried about their own performance than caring about yours.

• Perception − Pressure is a privilege. Maybe it is time to change your perception of the situation. Tour players practice their whole lives for the chance to be leading by one as they walk to the last hole. Embrace the privilege of pressure. This is your opportunity to challenge yourself. Can you hit a shot with people watching when it all counts? If you possess the skills, have practiced, know how to plan, and stay in the present moment you can produce the shot. Try going to from protecting your lead to pursuing a dream.

Next up: The Emotional Game.

Silver Creek native Cindy Miller, who counts the 2010 LPGA National Teacher of the Year award among her many golf accomplishments, is writing the “Own Your Game” column for The News. Her next column will appear July 24.