David Hesse, IMG Academy Assistant Director of Performance, shared his thoughts onSTACK magazine's Expert blog about the lessons an aspiring golfer must learn from Adam Scott's final-round collapse at the 2012 British Open.
Adam Scott stood on the 15th tee on Sunday afternoon, four holes to play with a four shot lead. Yet, it is the name of Ernie Els that is engraved on the famous Claret Jug trophy this morning. If you read the press reflecting on this year's Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes in England, it is full of descriptors such ascrumbled,spectacularly imploded, andcapitulated. It is always difficult to witness, yet compelling to watch, as an elite athlete fails under so much pressure. Only Scott and his team will know the reasons behind the four consecutive bogeys that resulted in Els snatching the trophy out of his hands. We can only speculate what was going on inside Scott's head - did the pressure get to him? Was he too distracted by the scoreboard with the likes of Els and Woods coming after him? Did he change his strategy?
Whatever the reasons, it is his response that matters now. Other golfers have used these major setbacks as the motivation to bounce back and learn about themselves. Rory McIIroy threw away the US Masters on the final round in 2011, yet was able to bounce back only two months later to win his first major in the US Open. Unfortunately for others, most notable Jean van de Velde, their careers become defined by such glorious failures.
Even though this year's Open will forever be remembered for the way Scott played the last four holes, we should not forget that Els also played in a tough environment - albeit a psychologically-different one. With three major titles to his name, Els drew upon his experience to navigate the final 18 holes. Beginning six shots off the lead, Els played without the expectation and pressure that Scott carried the previous two days. Els knew that to win he had to apply the pressure and make demands of Scott. In the end, Els' putt at 18 to get him to 7-under was enough to distract Scott from securing the win.
So what can players do when they have worked so hard to get in a dominant position only to lose it in such a spectacular fashion? This is where the role of a mental conditioning coach on a player's support team is pivotal. The job of these specialized coaches is to help players manage distractions and cope with the numerous challenges faced over 18 holes. At IMG Academy, mental coach, Christian Smith, works with the next generation of golfers to help them develop the mental resilience to handle the rigors of elite golf. Young golfers can learn from Scott's experience by following a number of principles designed to help them improve their mental game:
Have a game plan -
Preparation is key. It is imperative you know your game plan before stepping on the first tee. When you come up against challenges and setbacks, it is too easy to either change your game plan or simply forget it. Experienced golfers are able to stick to their game plan through adversity or make adjustments if game strategy calls for it.
Stay in the moment -
This is easy to say, yet so often hard to do. Scott admitted to paying attention to the leaderboard. Some players like to know where they stand, while other players allow themselves to get distracted by what others are doing on the course, rather than concentrating on the task at hand. How do you stay in the moment? Stay in the moment by using cues that help you focus on the âhere and now.â Concentrate on the tempo, timing or rhythm of your swing. Although difficult in golf, you must let go of the past, especially if your previous shot led to trouble. React to your mistakes instead of dwelling on them.
Distract the distractions -
It is easy to get distracted on a golf course - cheers often explode from the galleries in the distance, cameras click, players pick up and drop shots, and the leaderboard constantly changes. More importantly, players can be their own biggest distraction, by not controlling their self-talk, their thoughts or their state of being. Players have to develop a strong sense of self awareness to recognize when they are being distracted from their game. Once they recognize these distractions, they need to find ways of âdistracting the distractions.â The pre-shot routine is one the best ways for players to remain focused on the task at hand. Players should incorporate thoughts, cue words and behaviors into a pre-shot routine that has been practiced extensively before stepping on the course. Providing a simple, yet familiar, set of instructions helps players focus on task-relevant information, instead of insignificant distractions rooted in things they cannot change.
Manage the self talk -
No one knows what Scott was saying to himself as his four shot lead dwindled, but there is a good chance he was beating himself up. No one is more critical, more berating, more destructive to you, than you. At the elite level, the caddie plays a vital role in keeping the player calm throughout the round. However, for the majority of the time, the only person who can help you on the golf course is you. Therefore, your inner dialogue will shape your mindset and approach to adversity on the golf course. You have to give yourself a break and understand that mistakes will happen. The ability to stay positive, to bounce back, to hang in there or to put pressure on others will be shaped by the running commentary in your head.
Hopefully, Scott will bounce back and use his experience at Royal Lytham & St Annes to help him claim his first major. All aspiring golfers can hopefully learn from that final round of golf, without ever having to endure the public fall that befell Scott.
David Hesse trained as an Organizational Psychologist which led to a seven year career working in management consultancy based out of London, UK. He specialized in business transformation and organizational change working with multi-national companies across numerous business sectors and government departments. In 2007 he completed his Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Loughborough University, England. During this time he set up his own consultancy business specializing in performance psychology in both business and sport which led to contracts with national sport federations, national governing bodies and elite athletes in the United Kingdom. Immediately prior to joining IMG Academy as Assistant Director of Performance, Hesse was working with the management team at sportscotland Institute of Sport helping Scottish sport gear up for the London 2012 Olympics and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.