Jordan Spieth: Adding to Your Swing Under Pressure

Bubba Watson kept himself together and earned a 3-shot victory over Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt at the 2014 Masters. Augusta National was its normal slick, beguiling self forcing everyone to sort of tip-toe their way around the famous and revered course.

For Watson, it was his second green jacket and for the two first-timers, it was an emphatic statement about their credentials to be there in the first place. All week long we heard about the value of experience at Augusta and that history has shown that first-timers just don’t have the requisite knowledge needed to score well. Oh, you can come off thinking that you played really well, but that doesn’t always help if you don’t know where to play to as you make your way from shot to shot.

So kudos to both Spieth and Blixt for revealing just how hard they worked during the week in order be able to pull that off. It would have been impressive if just one of them had finished 2nd; that they both did really raised eyebrows. 

And they both looked really calm as they made their way through the day. But it turns out they weren’t, they just managed themselves well. Spieth spoke about his nervousness:

Yeah, I was definitely nervous, but I didn’t feel like it made me any — create any tendencies that would have caused me to hit shots off‑line.

I was nervous, but I enjoyed it.  I was embracing it and I was taking less club.  I had adrenaline, and you know, I enjoyed it.  I had a great time out there today.

But yeah, I was nervous, but I wasn’t quite — not quite as patient today as I was the first three rounds and holding emotions, as well.  I was very close.  It was still the best I’ve ever done on a Sunday, and I know that it can only improve from there, and that’s what’s driving me to get back out.

And Blixt had a very similar experience:

Well, I talked about it all week, you really get to know who you are.  It’s different feelings springing up in your body that you never felt before.  I was happy I had the experience of the PGA last year and really being in contention.  That really helped me today, I think.

And he knew exactly how that pressure affected him:

I think I got a little quick.  That’s about it.  I think I had a pretty good mind‑set out there and I really tried to make birdies, but I tried a little bit too hard at times.  I don’t feel like the moment really got to me, but there was a couple good swings there that were a little quick and just didn’t execute it as good as I wanted to.

Getting quick is a classic response to challenging shots when a player is under pressure. It stems from uncertainty — over the shot or the swing — and is immediately recognized for its redline tempo and a swing that went by in a flash.

The reason it can be so pernicious is that the immediate reaction is to not swing quick — a negative thought — when the most effective approach is to affirmatively make your normal swing.

A corollary to being quick is trying to add to the swing in an effort to make it more assertive or emphatic; almost always as a display of determination.

I could be wrong, but I thought I saw a couple of Jordan Spieth’s swings that looked that way beginning with his drive on the 1st hole. They looked like a feeling I immediately identified with from my playing days. It didn’t have its normal relaxed aggressiveness, it looked careful and rote; you don’t want to mess up on the 1st hole! He pulled it into the left treeline. He pulled his drive on the 2nd hole into the hazard, thankfully playable in grass instead of the creek.

He looked fine on the short 3rd hole because he hit a fairway wood or rescue club to lay up to a good lob wedge yardage. His swing was so good on the par-3 4th he was surprised when it came down short in the bunker (no problem; just make it for a 2).

He had that same motion with his driver on 5 and ended up down in the swale, short left of the bunkers. We couldn’t see his swing on 15, but it ended up left as did his drive on 17 leading to an incredible lob-shot third for a kick-in par.

The adding to the swing can start in the set-up when you try to make sure your posture is correct, maybe straighten your back more than normal or square your shoulders in eagerness. And all of that can cause little inefficiencies in the swing that interfere with its meter. And perhaps there’s an  emphatic, additional “hit” through impact rather than the normal, accelerating explosiveness through the ball.

As with all swing thoughts, the beginning of fixing this one, subtle as it is, is realizing that you’re doing it in the first place. And once you do, by continuing to pay attention to it by emphasizing swing tempo in practice so the outliers more readily show up.

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