We all remember it so vividly. Rory McIlroy taking a 4 shot lead in to the final round of the 2011 Masters only to see him squander it all away on the back 9. Shot after shot, putt after putt, we watched him fold under the pressure and ultimately finish 10 shots behind the eventual winner Charl Swartzel. In the end, the magnitude of the moment was too much for Rory to handle.
Fast-forward 2 months later to Bethesda, MD where the 2011 U.S. Open took place. All eyes were once again on Rory McIlroy to see how he would respond to his meltdown in Augusta a couple of months earlier. McIlroy not only exercised his demons from the Masters, but put on a clinic at Congressional by posting the lowest scoring total in U.S. Open history en route to his first major victory.
(Note to editor: You can use this next paragraph or not. Wanted to add some color to the writing. Completely up to you guys)
“BOOYAAA!!! In your face!!!” Now I’m not sure if all of the pundits and doubters actually heard these words come out of McIlroy’s mouth, but they definitely saw his game yell them loud and clear!
How was Rory able to bounce back so quickly from that colossal meltdown that might have taken years to overcome? His mental approach that’s how! All the great players are able to handle adversity better than most. That’s what separates the superstars from the rest of the pack. Lets break down exactly how McIlroy executed his mental dominance to handle this adverse situation. You too can use this same approach with your game to help you overcome adversity, pressure and distraction when playing a round of golf.
#1. Take ownership of your situations
What impressed me the most about McIlroy was his willingness to own up to his collapse. He didn’t shy away and hide from the media. He took on all interviews and questions immediately following the event. There wasn’t any displacement of blame or excuses thrown around. Rory manned up and acknowledged his mishaps. He took ownership of his situation.
This is key because it keeps you in control at all times. Straying away from making excuses or blaming outside elements when something goes wrong is critical to success. Try these on for size. A missed 4-foot putt: “Man… these greens are too fast!” After a bad round: “The weather was horrible! It’s impossible to play good in these conditions.” Your ball gets plugged in the bunker: “I get all the bad breaks!! Nothing ever goes my way!”
It’s difficult to have success with this type of mindset. From now on take full responsibility for what happens on the course. This will keep you maintain control while playing. See if you can figure out the pace of the greens instead of blaming them for your misses. Although weather can be bad, look at inclement conditions as a challenge you want to conquer. By taking ownership of your situations you maintain control. Whenever you’re in control your confidence to succeed will be extremely high.
#2. Learn from what just happened
It is important to learn from your mistakes as well as from your success. In an interview leading up to the U.S. Open Rory talked about what he learned from the events in Augusta. This experience helped him become a better player. McIlroy mentioned his tendency to get quick during competition when the pressure rises. This change in tempo is what led to bad swings and errant shots. Rory talked about getting better during this moment by getting better prepared. He practiced executing at a slower pace and made a conscious effort of walking slower and breathing slower. This preparation and execution played a major role toward his U.S. Open dominance.
Get better at understanding how you respond to various situations. If you are able to hit the driver great on the range and as soon as you get on the course it sprays right then look to see what changes. There is often more anxiety felt when actually playing then when hitting balls on the range. Anxiety will physically affect you in two ways. Tempo will get quicker and muscles will get tighter. Getting quicker when the pressure heightens may be the cause of your ball going right. Smooth out your tempo by walking and breathing at a slower pace. This will help you drive down the middle to produce lower scores.
#3. Get focused on the next task
Leading up to the U.S. Open, McIlroy stated time and time again that what happened at the Masters was behind him. He learned from his mistakes and was ready to take this knowledge and put it to test. Rory also mentioned over and over again as long as he takes care of each shot (the ole adage one shot at a time) he would have much success. Hearing this type of dialogue during his interviews told me that he was prepared and ready to make a strong charge at winning his first major championship.
Getting focused on what’s in front of you should be your goal every time you step on the course. Whether the task is a putt, a drive, a round or a bunker shot, you must be locked in on that moment and nothing else. Worrying about what just happened or other elements that have nothing to do with your next shot will only be a distraction. It will not help you execute the task in front of you. See how well you can let go of what just happened and focus on what you have 100% control over with your next shot. The ole saying one shot at a time may sound like a cliché, but is a vital part to every golfer out there in order to dominate.
Handling adversity and bouncing back plays a major role in golf. We will all encounter a mishap or two during a round. The key is how to not let these mistakes affect your overall performance. Take a page from Rory McIlroy and use these three mental techniques to help overcome adversity. They helped him win his first major imagine what these tips can do for you!
Sports Psychology/Mental Training from Mental Apex