The build up to an Open tournament is always exciting for golfing enthusiasts. We leaf through all of the magazine articles, watch the golf channel and listen to every interview. We avidly discuss who’s going to be up there with anyone who will talk golf.
The big question during the couple of weeks prior to the British Open (in the UK at least) was whether Rory McIlroy would manage to win a second Major in quick succession. And so we all watched with bated breath as Rory teed off on day one of the British Open at Royal St Georges. How would he handle the pressure? How would he play? Could he do it again? And wouldn’t it be good to see Luke Donald winning a Major? Questions, questions and more questions!
In many ways these questions are quite unfair. We build up the pressure and tension for Rory (and Luke, and everyone else) through our own questions and predictions. We ask if Rory will do it again, when we are also aware that there are many other very good golfers who are a lot more mature than 22 years of age who have not as yet won a Major. Luke Donald is one of Rory’s younger contemporaries who has yet to win a major and he’s been ranked number one in the World.
But Rory has already cracked it at age 22. He did have a few attempts at coping with the pressure of starting the final day in the lead before he mastered it. He finally managed to place himself in his own mental bubble and get everyone else out of his mind at the US Open. The road from the Masters to the US Open 2011 was a challenging one mentally, but Rory overcame those intangible “pressure” obstacles and won his first Major in serious style.
He didn’t get off to a flying start in the British Open and kept us all sitting on the edges of our seats, willing him to make a few birdies and relax into his game. He held it together and came in with a respectable score on day one. It wasn’t a 65 though. He knew what we are thinking. He could feel all of those thoughts and questions buzzing around him like a swarm of hungry bees. His own thoughts mingle with those of the questioning bees.
The mental pressure changes for every golfer from one round to the next. When you are focused on cracking the pressure of starting day 4 in the lead you have made a mental acknowledgment that days 1-3 are almost taken as read. You already know you can do that bit. You feel confident about the mental pressure associated with those first three days.
But then once you have cracked day 4, as Rory did in the US Open this year, your focus turns around to trying to play four great rounds in a row together again; days 1-3 are no longer taken as read and the mental pressure switches once again.
Rory decided to take a bit of time out and relax before the British Open. Ian Poulter made a similar decision. How do you decide what will work best for you? Should you rest before a Major or play as much as possible to stay on a roll? Does taking time out give you too much time to think about your next tournament? To overthink it?
The key to coping with mental pressure in golf lies in knowing your own game and your own mind and trusting your own instincts. There is no one single mental formula with works for a golfer every time. You have to know yourself. You have to grow and mature as a person to be able to deal with mental pressure and come out on top.
Roseanna Leaton, avid golfer and specialist in golf hypnosis mp3s and author of the GolferWithin golf mind training system.
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