DISCLAIMER!: I am not a qualified psychologist, just a PGA pro 🙂
In this article I hope to offer my analysis of the golf psychology that enabled Garcia to win his first major. Few of us can hope to know the pressure of performance and expectation that being a world class golfer brings. I am very much writing this from the outside looking in, but perhaps it can provide a perspective that helps you with your own golf game.
Before the Masters, Sergio was almost at the top of every list of “the best players never to have won a major”. Many theories were discussed about how this could possibly be for a player of such obvious talent and amazing performances under tremendous pressure at the Ryder Cup.
The most common answer related to his “golf psychology” – his on course thought processes and his statistical weaknesses with the putter.
From his earliest days on tour we can see examples of Garcia being very negative. Whether a downbeat interview, a fit of anger or a lack of patience it is clear these things hinder achievement. The career of Jordan Spieth so far stands in stark contrast. He is rightly hailed as the grittiest player, the king of the comeback. He has surprised many with the nature of his performances.
Sergio’s temperament was often passed off as the flamboyance of an emotional character with high expectations and the pressure of a nation on his shoulders. But when saying in a press conference that he wasn’t good enough to win a major and that he was playing against ‘lady luck’ as well as the other players it was clear he was fighting some demons.
His interviews at the Masters all pointed towards ‘acceptance’. He repeatedly stated the massive, positive influence of the woman in his life Angela Akins. We can only presume that he realised how lucky he was. He didn’t need the major to make his life great.
Some self reflection perhaps made him realise what a privilege it was to be considered one of histories best ball strikers and to have played a substantial part in so many Ryder Cups.
It appears subtle, but playing with desire versus a need can make a big difference. Apply this to the next time you are on the first tee. Do you feel pressure to avoid the embarrassment of a bad tee shot. Are you telling yourself you NEED to hit it good. Or are you really focused on a positive outcome? Fear versus hope?
Do you think this was the difference for Sergio?
NEVER GIVE UP
Sergio turned pro as a teenager and nearly won a major against Tiger in 1999! That is almost 20 years ago. He was breaking par and setting course records around Europe years before that as a junior!
In other words he has felt elite, as one of the worlds best for a long time. But he never reached the expectations of others and perhaps his own.
20 years is a long time to stick with what you know. Here are some things he didn’t do but many around him were doing or things the golfing press thought he should.
- He didn’t go crazy in the gym and add tonnes of muscle
- He didn’t change his equipment too often
- He didn’t change his unique swing (massively laid off)
- He didn’t change coaches (still taught by his father)
- He didn’t sabotage his career with drink, drugs or off course scandal
- He didn’t injure himself
- He didn’t quit
How long will you persevere in your attempts to reach your goals?
How will you reach those goals? Never give up – who knows what is around the corner for you?
KEEP YOUR COOL
Getting flustered on the course is something every golfer has done. Frustration, perfectionism, bad luck and competitors performances can cause us to react in a very negative way.
From throwing his shoe down the fairway to swinging his club like an axe in a bunker, Sergio is no stranger to emotion on the course. This would often manifest itself at the sharp end of a leaderboard in major tournaments.
Indeed many commentators on Twitter predicted his inevitable and impending implosion at Augusta. They were quick to tweet enthusiastically when Sergio hit the trees on the 13th and looked set to finish the hole with a significant to deficit to the unflappable Rose.
But he did something different. He took his medicine. He did not curse his bad luck for clipping a branch on the dogleg. He did not project forward mentally about what this meant for his chances at winning. His answer in the press conference is worth quoting in full:
Q. If I asked you of what you are most proud this afternoon, would it be a shot or a hole or would it be a demonstration of your character?
Definitely demonstration of my character, and my mentality. You know, how positive I stayed even when things weren’t going that well on 10 and 11.
So even on 13, I didn’t hit that bad a drive. I’ve been hitting that drive every day like a high cut. This drive was probably going three yards left of the ones I’ve hit the other three days, and unfortunately it hit the tree and went in the bush. But even that, you know, in the past, I would have‑‑ I would have started going, you know, at my caddie, and oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever (laughter).
But you know, I was like, well, if that’s what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.
So I think that thatI’ve been doing very well throughout the whole week, and it’s something I need to keep improving and keep getting better at it.
Why not review your previous competitive events. How could you have reacted differently to your bad shots? How much difference could it have made to your score? The beauty of golf is that only you will know. There is no black and white answer.
PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS
This is perhaps not as important as the above topics but it is still very relevant. Some have admonished Garcia for missing crucial putts on 16 and 18. It would be easy as a casual observer to think that Sergio won despite his putting.
He certainly didn’t hole as many putts as Rickie Fowler during the week but he averaged 1.65 versus 1.68 (for the field) putts per green in regulation. He also only had one 3 putt for the week, a hugely impressive statistic under the greatest of pressure. A four round tournamentis often compared to a marathon. In that sense we can say that Garcia putted well enough to let his ball striking do the talking.
He played to his strengths. You cannot avoid putting as you can with other facets of the game (ie yardages, club selection, shot shaping). But you can avoid unessecary pressure putts by having a speed on your putts that leaves tap ins as much as possible. (There were no signs of impatient firm putts.)
Another way might be in his strategic choices with the long game – hitting to certain parts of the green for easier approach putts and perhaps a more aggressive strategy on par 5s.
This approach can be employed mentally aswell. It means managing expectations. How can you apply this to your golf? Avoiding what areas of your game will yield the best score?
The most common mistakes I see with normal golfers in pro-ams are too much use of the driver, never planning out the ideal hole for them and far too much ambition around the green. What do you feel you could do to manage the weaknesses in your game?
Get in touch if you would like to discuss the above. I hope they cause you to analyse your game in a fresh and objective way. Developing skills is one aspect of performance. What can you do to make it happen on the course?