It doesn’t matter if your playing you pals in a $2-$2-$4 game or you have a one shot lead in the US Open with 3 holes to play. Self inflicted pressure is what makes our hearts, putting strokes and swings faster under this pressure.
Some players can handle it, even thrive on it, like Tiger Woods for example. When he is in the hunt, other players feel the crushing pressure like a Tiger pouncing on a poor outmatched Elk ready to become a tasty meal.
When golfers practice, what is hard to do is to practice while replicating the intense pressure that golfers feel while under siege in a situation that is important to them. This weekend as I posted earlier I entered the 98th Oakland City at my beloved Lake Chabot Golf course I played as a kid growing up in the area. I knew the field of roughly 25 players would be relatively easy, and anything other than a win would be a disappointment. Sounds cocky perhaps, but without that approach why even compete.
On Friday I played a practice round with three friends, and one of them had not yet entered the event. I talked John into entering and was hopeful that he would play well to put additional heat on me during the event. In the first round he shot 71 and I had 68. We had separated ourselves from the field, looking like a two man battle for the win.
We both got off to good starts with par par birdie on 1-3. On the 4th hole I had a 2 footer for birdie that I yipped, while John made his. On #5 I again missed a two footer for par, giving up another shot to John, and on #7 I again three putted from 20 feet to give up my 3 shot lead.
But on the 8th hole a tough par 3 hole up a steep hill, I hit a 6 iron to 5 feet while John pulled up short. His chip was poorly hit leaving him 20 feet uphill. He left his par putt short, then missed his 18 inch putt making a crushing double and putting me back up 2.
We both made good putts on 8 and 9 for birdie par, and again on #10 John left a 4 foot birdie putt short. So back and forth we went with a lot of visible choking looking like neither of us was capable of taking over control of this Championship.
That changed temporarily on 11 and 12 where I went birdie birdie to take a commanding 4 shot lead, that extended to 5 shots when John again missed a short putt on the 13th hole. So with a 5 shot lead with 5 holes to go, you’d think I would be able to just now relax and play steady golf. That did not happen.
If I was just playing golf I would have played these last holes 2-3 under par, as they are the easy holes at Lake Chabot, especially the downhill 18th hole that plays to a par 6. Instead I flew the green on 14 and made bogey, 4 up. On 15 I hooked my tee shot against the fence left and chipped out for another bogey, 3 up. On the 16th hole I had a 25 foot birdie putt that I lagged to 2 feet and missed with a yipped push and jolt of my body. So now I had the tough uphill par 3 17th hole where I made a solid par to right the ship while John made bogey to get 3 back with the 18th hole left.
NORMALLY A 3 shot lead is safe, but not on a hole like this. I hit a good drive that did not roll down the hill, and I followed it with a poor second lay up shot I hit way right. John had only 180 left to the green making a 3 possible. I then chunked my 3 shot short of the green and had the same shot John did from short of the green. The pin was on a very small back ledge that meant long was out of the question so short it was, leaving me a very slow steep uphill putt. John hit a good chip to 6 feet below the hole, and of course I’m thinking if I three putt this and he makes his, we’ll be tied.
This is NOT the way to think, I needed to just focus on hitting a solid putt and getting out of there with a 6 on the hole. I fortunately hit a good putt to 2 feet and decided to just finish it before the putting demons had a chance to creep into my body. I quickly stepped up to the putt and knocked it in. Fortunately for me this ended John’s comeback. But had he made a few more short putts during the round, this would have been his win, not mine.
There is no lesson here because despite winning the event, I know that with stronger competition I would not have played well enough to win. Coming from behind is easier than holding onto the lead. Just look at what world #1 did with an 8 shot lead with nine holes to play. He won by 3 and it could have been even closer if Ryan Palmer could have made a putt. Ryan kept cutting across his putts, which I believe was a result of the pressure. He has not won a significant individual event in a very long time.
I think that John Rahm is a great player, but showed us all what playing in the lead is like on a tough course. Justin Thomas showed is the same last week when he was 3 up with three to go and lost.
So how should a golfer deal with a pressure situation that makes it hard to breath, and certainly hard to swing smoothly, and putt with confidence. I’ve tried Beta blockers, Kava Kava, CBD, breathing exercises, hypnosis, sports psychology along with many other things that I have experimented with. I even tried a flask of vodka that helped the putting but didn’t do much for my motor skills.
What I have found the most helpful during these situation will sound obvious, but do work. #1 stay in your routine, don’t take more time than normal, just stay in the same routine you always go through. #2 you must breath from deep in your belly, get as much Oxygen in your system as possible. Most players are holding their breath and making it impossible to perform. And lastly and #3 is you must visualize the result you want, meaning visualize the perfect stroke and the ball rolling on the line you’ve chosen and into the hole. When hitting a shot, visualize the flight, trajectory and result. DO NOT Look at the trouble and try to steer away from it.
All of this is easier said than done. This all takes work, if you want to be the best in your respective arena against the players you compete against, then practice having the confidence to know you will prevail against them.
I hope you find some of this helpful, it will ultimately help me as writing these things is a constant reminder of what I need to work on.
|98th Annual Oakland City Championship Round 2 Leaderboard|
98th Annual Oakland City Championship Senior Championship – Senior Champ
|Pos.||Player||Total To Par Gross||R1||R2||Total Gross|