Today’s post is part one of a two part series on The Pressure to Succeed. Dr. Tony Piparo is a Sport Psychologist and former golf professional and has worked with golfers of all ages and ability levels develop the skills necessary to play their best golf more often. For more tips on how to improve your golf performance visit The Peak at www.peakperformanceblog.com
The 2010 Ryder’s Cup is now just a fading memory for most golfers. Unfortunately, it’s probably still a nightmare for Hunter Mahan. If you remember, he asked coach Corey Pavin to give him the last tee time in the singles matches on that final Monday with the US trailing the Europeans 9 ½ to 6 ½. The US made a great comeback with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson playing stellar golf and winning their matches. It finally came down to the last two matches pitting Ricky Fowler against Italian Eduardo Molinari and Hunter against Irishman Graeme McDowell. Ricky, down four holes with four to go, played flawlessly, birdiing the last four holes to tie the match and give the US a ½ point. Now Mahan only needed to halve McDowell to secure the victory for the US. Unfortunately, Mahan needed to win the last two holes to accomplish the comeback miracle. But it wasn’t to be. Mahan hit his tee shot just short of the 3-par 17th green while McDowell’s tee shot luckily found the right rough between the green and the green-side bunker. Had his ball trickled in the bunker, par would have been much more difficult and Mahan could have potentially won the hole with a par, setting up a final hole showdown.
With the weight of his team mates, the entire US, and his own reputation on the line because of his request to be in this position, Mahan knew he probably a miracle to have any chances of winning the hole. With millions of people worldwide watching, Mahan stepped up to his ball and proceeded to chunk his chip. It never made the green. And that was that. I’m sure most Americans who watched this Monday afternoon drama sat in stunned silence. Color commentator and former PGA professional, Johnny Miller, in a tone of despair said it perfectly, “We’ve all been there.”
Yes, we’ve all been there. We chunked our chips, probably more times than we care to remember. But we’re not part of the golfing elite. We’ll never be selected to play in a Ryder cup. How can this gifted professional golfer chip like a weekend duffer? Had he struck the ball solidly he would have had a chance, slim I’ll grant, but a chance to chip it in none the less. He’s probably holed thousands of chips in the past, some in do-or-die situations. So how could this extremely gifted golfer fail so miserably to execute a simple chip? Pressure!
You don’t have to be playing in front of thousands of on-course observers and millions more world-wide via television and the Internet to succumb to pressure. Pressure affects all of us at some time or other even if we’re playing in our weekly foursomes for a quarter a hole or just for fun. Golf is an achievement activity and any time an outcome in an achievement situation is important and uncertain we experience pressure to succeed; the more important and uncertain the outcome the greater the pressure. Because we have failed in the past where the outcome is deemed important and uncertain, the pressure to succeed creates fear of failure. Fear creates stress and stress triggers our fight-or-flight reflex.
No matter how physically skilled we may be or confident about our ability to succeed, any self-doubt, no matter how slight and fleeting creates fear, even if it goes unnoticed, and the downward cycle of stress, fight-or-flight, and the potential for failure ensues. Do you think Hunter Mahan had any thoughts that he might not hole that chip? I would bet that he knew his chances were slim even if he executed the shot perfectly. Do you think that he experienced any self-doubt? I would dare say he had plenty, even if he didn’t realize it on a conscious level.
Could he have done something about it, to at least give himself a fighting chance? Absolutely! Did he? I’m not sure, but if he did, whatever he did, didn’t work. However, most golfers are so concerned about what they have to do and worried about failure or making mistakes that they don’t recognize the signs that indicate a stress reaction. That’s been my experience with most of the golfers I’ve worked with. When I ask them about what they experience when they get stressed out, they say that they don’t know. So my suspicion is that he was too busy worried about what he had to do and the miracle it would take that he forgot to take the necessary steps to reverse the stress reaction and stop the fight-or-flight reflex.
Part two will be posted on Thursday…
photo credit: eschipul