By Christian Smith, Mental Conditioning specialist, IMG Academy
"Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears." - Bobby Jones, golfing legend and co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club
As is often said, the Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday. Preparation for the majors, however, begins long before then. For Bubba Watson, the dream began in his back yard as a young boy growing up in Baghdad, FL.
As David Feherty, one of the commentators, said yesterday, "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." Bubba came close at the PGA Championship back in 2010 when Martin Kaymer came out on top that day in a playoff at Whistling Straits. Bubba undoubtedly drew on that experience yesterday to assert himself in the golfing world and rise to No.4 in the world, currently the highest ranked American golfer.
Mental conditioning is a key part of preparation at the IMG Academy golf program, and we all enjoyed watching the weekend unfold to learn and apply the lessons at hand.
I can't help but think that some recent major life events have helped Bubba put golf in perspective. He lost his father to cancer after the Ryder Cup in 2010, nearly losing his caddie/friend, Ted Scott, who threatened to part ways if Bubba's on course attitude didn't improve, and most recently adopting a son with his wife. It was ironically some of the very same things that Bubba revealed in a post-round interview that had challenged his ability to stay in the present and focused on the task at hand. Bubba cited his use of self-talk (a mental tool we teach the golfers at IMG Academy golf program) as the main reason he was able to regain his focus during the round.
Life doesn't stop for sport, but a solid mental game plan can help us manage and deal with these things. It's amazing how many successful athletes overcome many odds in their career and perhaps succeed because they've had to overcome these challenges.
On the second playoff hole, the world witnessed a level of creativity few people can relate to -- a 155-yard gap wedge which hooked over 40 yards in the air before landing on the green, releasing right and rolling towards the hole.
As Bubba put it âIf I have a swing, I have a shot.â Since he had already hit a similar shot in regulation play on the same hole, he was able to visualize the shot in his mind before he executed. Visualization is also a mental tool that we teach and one which elite level athletes use prior to performance to prepare their minds and bodies for success.
In a game not about finding out what works, but rather, finding out what works for you, Bubba unlocked his potential yesterday and earned perhaps the greatest victory of all - an inner victory in the battle with himself.
Don't underestimate the power of your mind. Get with the program and look for how you can take your mental game to the next level!