It’s not often that most players will have to deal with this type of scenario, but it’s inevitable that at some point in their career, they will. How do they respond?
Most times, it has to do with the individual player and their point of reference to that point. Some players are unique in that every challenge that’s presented they can overcome with relative success. For the rest, challenges are the stumbling block to success. There have been countless examples of this already in 2012 on the major U.S. tours. Kyle Stanley found himself in uncharted territory at the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Stanley went into the final round having slept on a five shot lead over John Rollins and John Huh. Stanley held on to most of that lead and found himself three shots clear of the field as he stood over his approach to the par-5 18th hole. Moments later, after watching his third shot spin back off the front of the green, Stanley was being wisked away to the 18th tee to start a playoff with eventual winner Brandt Snedeker. Fast forward to the next week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and we find Kyle right back in the saddle. He started the final round T-5th, a full eight shots behind 3rd round leader Spencer Levin. This time however, Stanley was equipped with a different tool in his arsenal. Experience.
Not paying much attention to leaderboards, Stanley was workmanlike in his play, making the turn in 3-under par 33. After adding birdies at 11, 13 & 14, Stanley held off a charging Ben Crane with 4 straight pars to capture his first PGA Tour Victory in just his 3rd year on tour.
How’d he turn defeat one week into victory the next? Experience.
It’s been said on numerous occasions that experience is the best teacher. It is and can be, but you must be an astute student. Let’s look at three things that helped Kyle adopt the mindset of a champion that can also help you regardless of your talent level.
First, Kyle realized that he’s human. He accepted the fact that his mind wanders during the round. He’s, like the rest of the players on tour, is just like the rest of us. We all have lives away from the game and like it or not, they influence our ability to focus during a round. That’s not to say that we can’t block out the external distractions during a round. It’s simply a reminder that we have to make a concerted effort to remained focused on the task at hand. If you are overwhelmed with the circumstances of life (marriage, kids, finances, career, etc.) is wise when you play to offer yourself a little “grace for the moment”. It’s doubtful that you’ll play to your maximum potential under these circumstances, so don’t set your expectations at their pinnacle. What you can do however, is to use the game to relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling.
Second, Kyle did not allow the past to define his future. Every player from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods has, at some point in their career, experienced doubt. This doubt stems from the collision of man’s desire to be seen as the best with the fear of being seen at all. The latter is the more dominant in the confrontation. From the beginning, man was created to be the superior being We like being on top. We want to be the Gladiator. We think we want the challenge to overcome. Then comes the moment of truth. The first moment of truth ever recorded was found in the Garden of Eden. Man failed miserably. What did Adam and Eve do after they failed…they hid. Why? Because they were ashamed that they had faced the challenge and failed to live up to expectations. The aggressor for us in golf is always expectations. The problem with this is, the expectations are two fold. It would be one thing if we only failed to meet our own expectations. It’s much harder dealing with the expectations of others. Kyle accepted the fact that he had not met the expectations of others as well as himself. He had a decision to make. He could allow his performance the previous week to define him as a failure and throw away countless hours of work from a young age as well as the success that he had seen up to this point or he could remain true to himself and the belief that he held that he could compete with the world’s best. Fortunately for Kyle, he chose the latter and became a champion within a week’s time. How many of you have reached a moment of truth in your game. It could be a tee shot on a tight hole, an approach to a tricky hole location or a short putt under a bit of pressure. The key to overcoming the past is resiliency. Just because you missed the shot before in no way dictates the outcome of your next opportunity. Being realistic with oneself is a must. I wouldn’t recommend a 30 handicap try to pull off a 3-wood from the rough or carry the corner of a dogleg from 260. That’s not realistic. With that said, approach each shot with the mentality of success. I had a cross country coach in high school that encouraged us with the mantra, “you can achieve only what you believe.” Believe that you are on the doorstep to success each time you tee it up and when you get there, ring the doorbell. When opportunity presents itself, believe in yourself and go on in.
Finally, Kyle had a plan. He didn’t simply show up in Phoenix hoping to play well. He used his practice rounds to familiarize himself with the course and formulate a plan not only for every hole,but for every shot. He decided how he was going to play the course rather than allowing the course to dictate how he was going to play it. This is the single greatest difference between the everyday player and the top amateurs and professionals. Having a plan allows you to focus on the task at hand and execute to a high level. Do you think Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the Indianpolis Colts, football’s winningest team over a 12 year period ever took the field without a plan. For you, the best course of action in formulating your plan for a round at your home course starts with a full assessment of your yardages. With the advent of laser range finders like the Bushnell Pinseeker, this is a relatively easy task. Hit 10 balls with each club and find the median distance that you hit each club and note them on a piece of paper. After you have done this, ask your local PGA Professional to help you formulate your plan through a playing lesson. Trust me, if your PGA Pro is top of things, this will be the best money you spend in an effort to get better. Ask him specifically to help you pick target lines off the tee, make the distance that you leave a ball from the intended target a priority when deciding how you are going to play each hole and each shot (this makes the game really easy when you can leave yourself “optimal” distances for each shot), as well as help you determine which quadrants of the green are in play and which are “off limits” based on hole location. All of this is done to allow you to play to your strengths and at the same time, limit the opportunity for you to be faced with a scenario that calls for a shot that you simply don’t have.