I love how simple tom watson explains the golf swing in this clinic he gave in 2005.
I hate the phrase. I hate the word – Choke. Nothing bothers me more than hearing an announcer mention choking in sports as he attempts to explain what is happening to a player or team that appeared to have the game, match or tournament in hand. As I watched the British Open this summer it was painful to see Adam Scott finish with 4 straight bogeys. He obviously didn’t handle the situation as best as he could. But it isn’t as simple as it appears. Being a golfer and having competed at a high level, I have had my fair share of letting the magnitude of the situation get to me. I’ve allowed myself to get out of the moment and allowed my emotions to dictate my performance. It is usually a snowball effect. When I think back to Adam Scott at Royal Lytham, if he had made the 4 footer on 16 I feel he would have won the tournament. He had just bogeyed 15 and now bogeyed 16.
For a golfer with a large lead when faced with small adversity if they can make a key 4 footer, hit a good chip or hit a ball on the green after a poor drive they feel as if “I am going to get this done, it is my destiny and my day.” When the short putt lips out, the second shot sails over the green into a tough spot, they start to unravel and feel out of control. It then affects their decision making. When Adam walked onto 18 tee, Ernie Els had just birdied to tie him. He made a tactical error in hitting a 3 wood. He either should have ripped a driver as he had been doing so well all week or hit an iron that couldn’t get to the bunkers. He hit into the only area he couldn’t hit it. He then played a great shot and gave him a chance for par but missed the putt.
Everyone will say he choked and unfortunately it will be hard to refute, but as I mentioned earlier it is a series of events that lead to it. If he could have made one par on those last 3 holes before 18, he pars 18 in my opinion and wins the championship. Choking is just a situation where our focus gets more on the outcome than the process. We realize where we are and what we are about to accomplish. If we could always the play the game with the process in mind and be a kid we would choke less. We must learn to program our minds to go back to that place where we went out and played for the love of the game. It is a difficult thing to do but the best lose themselves in the moment and just do what they can control. Next time you are playing for your Y league or on the course with your buddies and have a chance to win the match remember why you are there that day. It is what you enjoy doing. Have fun, be a kid and let it go.
I’ve been coaching some junior golfers pretty seriously the past few months. I’m faced with the ever important question. How do you blend good coaching to an already talented and accomplished player? The player has aspirations to be the best and so seeks out someone that can help get them there and guide them along the way. The parents want to build a team around the player so he or she has all the tools. From experience, I can tell you it is a fine line. A player learns to play the game with limited instruction and coaching. They tee it up and go play the game, a beautiful thing. There are things though that could be better, could make them smarter on the course and a more efficient player. Things that could help them make less mistakes and hence lower scores. The flip side to that is a player can start thinking too much. They can lose the innocence of playing the game.
What I have learned from observing and watching a lot of junior golf this year is that less is always more, even if you’re an adult. Good coaching doesn’t always mean coaching. Good coaching means quietly watching and making comments at the right time. Players have to play; they hit the golf shots and hole the putts. We aren’t robots. We are creative beings. There is an art to playing great golf. Hard work on short game, wedge game and putting can always be done. Persistence in these areas is always the answer. It really is a simple process. Stay patient and be creative. Always stay positive and expect good things to happen. Have great body language; pretend you are on stage performing for an audience and use the example of Michael Jordan. He used to say that he would not allow himself to take a night off. There were plenty of nights where he was tired or down and felt low on energy. You want to know what forced him to give his best effort. He said that there might be someone in the stands that had not seen him play. It might be the only time they every saw him play live and he was going to give them the best Michael Jordan. He was going to play with passion and do all the things he could do to help his team win and be Mike as the commercials used to say “Be like Mike!”
As we chug along the tracks of life it is important to take a step back and reflect on what we have learned. Coaching is much the same. We can have our philosophies on what we feel is the correct way to do something. What I have learned is the best coaches are able to keep their overall philosophy but adapt it to new things learned and shape it for the uniqueness of the player. Remember that less is more especially in an already gifted athlete. Giving too much instruction can ruin the natural flow they exhibit when competing. As coaches we want to bring out their strengths and help them find a way to minimize their deficiencies. Always remembering the quote from the famous UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, “don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do!”
Professional Golfer, Golf Coach, Director of Golf for SFA, sports fan, musician, student of life, project manager consultant & all things social. Married to an amazing woman with two incredible children.