A few days ago, I was sent a link to an interesting article based on Sian Beilock’s work on the art of the choke (or more accurately about what causes this to happen in pressure situations).
Here is the link:
The story touches on a few aspects of my game that I have been thinking about lately, namely that the more I care about a shot or round the worse I seem to do. Apparently, what happens is our brains emphasize loss over gain and when there is something larger than normal on the line, we sabotage ourselves when the thought of not losing overshadows the incentives to win. Whether there is $100 on the line for a final hole or a spot in the US Open, we process that as a potential loss and not as the potential payout. This freezes us and causes a type of paralysis in our learned skill sets, which in turn lessens our ability to perform.
From everything I have read and heard this is not uncommon, so it’s not a surprise that when I get down to the 17th hole of a round where I am just 4 over I have a blow-up hole. We’ve all been there. But, with this new information, I think it is possible to consciously control the situation. Knowledge is strength and knowing what your brain is thinking is the first step to being able to overcome it.
For the past two days since reading this story, I have been trying to try less during rounds. I have been keeping an even keel in my aggressiveness in a round and regardless of the hole or score I have not raised my concerns during the round. It has paid off, even if in a barely perceptible way. I shot an 81 yesterday out at Columbia Edgewater, which is my best score on that track to date and then today shot an 80 on the Great Blue course at Heron Lakes. Both rounds felt much easier than any round in the past and the only difference was that I was trying to not try so hard. I know it will be different when there is actually something big on the line, but if you can’t do it in practice then there is no way you can do it in competition, so starting here is the best option for the long term.
Today, I ran into a friend who was out on the range practicing for the Oregon Amateur qualifier coming up this weekend. It’s a big tournament here (probably the most competitive in Oregon and you have to have under a 5 handicap just to get considered for the qualifier) and he was getting ready three days in advance by only practicing and not playing any golf. This is a complete change to how he normally approaches tournament rounds and I think that he might be sabotaging himself by emphasizing the tournament too much. If he enters Sunday with a week of built up anticipation he will be setting himself up for too much potential loss and risks the brain taking over in a negative way. You have to want to win and visualize yourself winning, but you shouldn’t change your ways leading up to a competition. Instead, trust what you have been working on for such a long time and go out to enjoy the tournament and do as well as you can. The best results come from a relaxed and well focussed mind, a mind that is not over-pressured by the idea of loss.
Next time you have something on the line, try to not try so hard. Just be yourself and trust in your preparation.