I know I keep writing about playing under pressure, but I need to be sure I make my point.
How can you play so well for so many holes and then blow it? It's easy to do and it doesn't matter whether you are on the PGA Tour or playing at your home course.
Take Brendan Steele. Last week at the PGA Tour's Honda Classic, he struggled on the last hole of a tournament for the second time this season.
He had a bogey on No. 18 after hitting the green in 5 and one-putting, which pushed him to 1-over for the round and tied for fourth for the tournament. He had the 36-hole lead and is now 1-for-7 in his career in converting a 36-hole lead into victory.
At the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, his shot on No. 18 went way left and hit the bleachers on the adjacent 10th hole. He got a drop, chipped on to the green and then two-putted and found himself in a playoff. He missed his par putt on the first playoff hole and finished second. It was the fifth time in his career that he had the 54-hole lead, and he is 1-for-5 in those situations.
The good news is, he is playing great. The bad news is, he has done this twice on the 18th hole. Why? He is trying to force the results. Hopefully, he will soon learn from these experiences and learn how to win. If he doesn’t beat himself up too much, he could break through and win a ton. I sure hope that is the case.
So how can you combat the demons? It is difficult, but if you practice, you can do it.
I need to tell you a little story.
A few years ago, my husband Allen, who played on the PGA Tour for 15 years and the Masters five times, and I were invited to play in Australia. A Senior tour event was scheduled for men and women on the same course at the same time. Because we are the only married couple in the world who have played on all four major tours, (the LPGA Tour, the PGA Tour, the Legends Tour and the PGA Tour Champions), they invited us to play.
Allen had not played in a tournament for more than six years. In fact, his irons were illegal. He ordered new irons and they had not arrived. I was getting concerned that they might not show up until right before we needed to leave. He was practicing in the dome and I asked him, “What are you going to do if the irons show up and you don’t have a chance to try them?”
“No worries," he said. "A five iron is a five iron whether I am hitting it in the dome, or on the 18th hole at Augusta National in the last round of the Masters, or in Australia. I have to do the same thing with the club no matter where I am hitting it. I just follow my process.”
I sat back and thought to myself, “Wow, I have never thought of it that way.” (By the way, the clubs came the day before we left and he finished in the top 10 of the event.)
It is so true. A five iron is a five iron. The ball has no idea what is in front of it, and the club has no idea who is holding it. You must first complete the swing to allow the ball to go where the club is pointing.
What I find is that beginning golfers try to hit the ball. They think they need to help the club. Experienced players try to control where the ball goes. I am guilty of this myself. We try to make that ball go where we want, not realizing we need to follow our process and stay committed to the shot we have chosen.
Every time you make a swing you should have at least one or two simple keys or triggers you think about. It could be a feel, a visual or an auditory mantra. It should be very simple.
When you are practicing and hit the ball well, ask yourself what you felt. Did you notice it was slower? Timed better? Felt clean contact? Maybe rhythmic? If so, lock into that feel, sound or visual. Write it down. Use it the next time you play. Test it out. If it stays the same, keep it as your trigger.
I am going to challenge myself this year to stay focused on the task at hand. Commit to the decision I have made and complete the process. That is all I can control. If I do that, I should produce much better shots. I cannot control what anyone else does but me. I am committed to do that in 2020. I challenge you to so the same. If we do, we will play much better. I guarantee it.
Cindy Miller is a former LPGA Tour player, a current member of the Legends Tour of the LPGA and a Golf Channel Academy lead coach. She is a certified behavior, motivation and judgment professional who is sought after as a speaker, coach and corporate trainer. She inspires and challenges people to take another shot at business, sport, or life. For your FREE Learning Style Assessment, click here. Reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Cindy at https://cindymillerinc.com and on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
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