Golf Psychology: The Open – Breaking The Stop Situation

What makes sport so compelling? Often we are absorbed by the effortless mastery of a Federer or Woods. Legends and leaders who elevate their sport to rarefied levels. But doesn’t the most memorable drama come when we witness vulnerability? When we are drawn into the struggle of individuals digging deep to draw on the gossamer thin thread of personal strengths and positive memories in the face of physical, mental and emotional challenge.

The final day of the 2007 Open was loaded with such sub-plots. Garcia, Romero and Harrington all exposed us to their vulnerabilities. Their raw human side. The part that we recognize. The part that makes them like us.

Throughout the final day Harrington was composed, ordered and precise. He played like a man who knew how to win. That was ready to win. That was, until the eighteenth. This was it. Everything he had ever dreamed of. Played the game for. Right there in front of him. You could see the fire in his eyes. Searing with intensity. Ready for the tee shot of his life.

Yet, he was not just taking on the eighteenth. He was taking on his own psychology. The emotional patterns that get triggered in moments of potential breakthrough. Subtle psychologies that could be, for example, ‘No Irishman has won the Open for 60 years. You think you can do what no one else has done for 60 years? You cocky *******!’ Or a psychology of ‘You’ve been playing professional golf for 12 years. You haven’t broken through before. Why now?’

Powerful self-limiting patterns embossed at an early age. All now being challenged by a new order.

Eyes blazing, staring down the eighteenth, Padraig was taking a howitzer to any limiting psychologies that dared to confront him. To show who was in control. He was fired up alright. But was he thinking strategically?

In the fight to compensate against the build up of inner pressure, he went at it hard. Too hard. Trying to overlay his fears. Fighting fear from out of fear.

Now his focus was directed into a new looming fear. Barry Burn. And the golfers fear of the water. Don’t put it into the water. Avoid the water. The focus is on the water. All golf shots are an exact manifestation of your inner process. Padraig’s tee shot to the burn was a precise measurement of his mental and emotional wrestling match.

And what of Sergio Garcia who faced a similar personal breakthrough. Notice how much freer Garcia played when he lost his long-time lead. The burden of responsibility was no longer on his shoulders. Now he could enjoy himself again. The thrill of the chase. The rush of adrenalin. Right up until hole eighteen. Then a dominant self-limiting pattern kicked in. And derailed his personal breakthrough.

This is a critical moment in Sergio’s career. How he thinks about Carnoustie Sunday can limit what he will ever achieve. Immersing himself in a victim mindset will simply reinforce these limiting patterns, his self-view that the game is unfair. That he doesn’t get the breaks that others get. He needs to diligently focus and understand how these limiting golf psychologies impact on him and find ways to overlay them. It is possible.

It took a chat with Bob Rotella to return Padraig to a place from where he could win. And surely win again. For psychologically, he has broken through. You can be certain that it will not be another 60 years before an Irishman wins the Open. The stop situation has been broken.

Posted in Golf Psychology, Sports Psychology Blog.