Last week, Bill Haas beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a two-hole playoff to win the 2012 Northern Trust Open. Although it was Haas’ steady play throughout the week that allowed him to have the chance at victory, it was his mental thinking and preparation that really put the trophy in his hands.
When Haas made his par on the 18th hole during the final round, he had the clubhouse lead at 7 under. There were only two players who could catch him – Mickelson and Bradley. To do so, one of them would have to birdie the difficult 18th hole (which had only yielded six birdies all day). The odds that one of them would birdie were very unlikely; both of them making birdie would have been nearly impossible.
Despite the odds, Haas knew he couldn’t get ahead of himself and assume they wouldn’t make birdie. In fact, as Mickelson and Bradley were teeing off on 18 and Haas had the lead to himself, an interviewer asked him what his mindset was. His response: “My mindset is that both of them are probably going to birdie 18 and I have got to be prepared for a playoff here. I just have to execute good golf shots.”
Sure enough, both of them birdied, he entered the three-man playoff, and won.
This example speaks to the importance of expecting the unexpected and assuming the worst outcome. Deep down, Haas knew that the odds of them both making birdie was very unlikely, but he had to prepare his mind and body for more holes. He couldn’t let himself think for a second that he had won the tournament because it wasn’t over. He couldn’t let their play on the final hole impact his approach and play.
This is a lesson all golfers (and other athletes) can learn from. Not letting the play of your competitors get in your own head is a difficult, yet valuable ability. Regardless of whether the gap is widening or closing in between you and your competitors, it is essential to only focus on executing your own play. As soon as you begin to compare your play with the play of your competition, you are doomed.
Another important thing we can learn from Haas’ situation is that whatever the situation, it’s beneficial to expect your opponent to do the unexpected. If you can mentally prepare yourself for such outcomes, you will be able to more effectively and calmly execute your own processes.
Sports Psychology/Mental Training from Mental Apex