You often hear the phrase when relating to sports; an athlete that fails to deliver in the clutch, analysts (Johnny Miller comes to mind) usually say they “choked”. Defined further, to “choke” is when someone poorly responds to external pressure. They do something completely contrary to what they would have done without the weight of the moment. Preparation usually combats the choking reflex; usually.
There is no situation that puts you to in a better position to choke or excel, than golf. Standing alone over a little white ball brings all sorts of peculiar emotions to the surface. The subconscious begins to play tricks on the here and now. You try desperately to recall positive shots of the recent past, yet negative sensations linger. The golfer desperately combats fear, uncertainty and doubt with confidence, calmness and routine. Many times however, one bad shot or two seems to trump all of the great swings of the recent past. Back to back bad shots seemingly erase past success. You become a victim of the present situation instead of moving beyond the past.
Yesterday, I watched Dustin Johnson choke away the 2010 U.S. Open. After a Saturday round that saw Johnson dominate a brutally difficult golf course, he subsequently melted under the white-hot spotlight that shines brightly on the leaders during the final round. One bad shot seemingly changed his demeanor, and unfortunately lead to more horrendous shots. Johnson let negative emotions overwhelm him, and dominate his mind.
I just returned from a four day member/guest golf tournament in Michigan that saw me collapse under the pressure of the final day. Coming into the tournament I was somewhat confident in my swing. It has been a grueling twelve months of lessons and practice to try find a tempo and swing plane that works. Lately, I had hit good shots under tournament pressure, so I felt optimistic in what would transpire. As the days rolled forward my swing started to dissolve. Drives that would stay in the fairway on day one, drifted to the rough on day two. By day three and four, those 245 yard drives went out-of-bounds or ended up in treacherous lies. Truthfully, and somewhat ironically, I actually felt composed over shots….not nervous or ill prepared. Unfortunately my results (an 89 on day three and a 90 on day four) were emblematic of my poor execution. Worse yet, I managed to make three doubles and a par on the way into the clubhouse; moving us from first to fourth place (out of the money).
In my opinion, the only way to overcome the choking reflex is to get back into the heat of the moment and risk failing again. This is not a comfortable position as thoughts of past failures will most certainly seep into the frontal lobe. Unfortunately, this is the only way to truly appreciate the sensation of success.
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