Taking Blame Out of the Game

Hunter Mahan lost the Ryder Cup today. The last match on the course, he needed to win one of the last two holes to halve his match with Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open Champion, for the United States to win the Ryder Cup

Standing on the par-3, 17th tee, it didn’t seem like such a stretch. He’s known for his iron play, the pressure on McDowell intense to perform in front of the home crowd. Hit it close, make the putt for birdie and take advantage of your driving skills to make another birdie on 18 and maybe win his match. But all he needed was the halve. That’s all. 

He didn’t do it. He mishit his tee shot and it came down 15 paces short of the green. And then he mishit his chip shot too, badly. He missed the putt, conceded to McDowell, and the blood of the United States was on his hands. 

Oh, puhleeze

But feeding that distructive narrative, one of the commentators said, “It’ll take him years to get over this one.” No way around it, Hunter would be scarred for life from the trauma of not having saved the day. And afterwards, Hunter bought into the narrative and cried. He had let his team down. For crying out loud, he’d let his country down! 

His teammates disagreed with him, of course, pointing out that there were many other opportunities the rest of the team had to gain the half point needed to retain the Cup. Hunter just happened to be the one standing in the crosshairs of the last possible moment. This is the truth. 

In a culture where we value the heroic so much, we expect our heroes to perform on command. We love it when they do and spurn them when they don’t. That’s not universally true, of course, but our egos think it is when we’re the ones trying to be heroic and these thoughts of being the goat flash through our minds. The only time that they don’t is when we are so absorbed in the moment that our attention is totally focused on the matter at hand. The antidote for the ego is presence 

One hopes that the half point that Hunter was unable to win when all of the world was watching him will soon devolve into just another couple of back-to-back, bad golf shots just like he’s hit many times before…and will again. Working to be unaffected by that–to see that he is his spiritual essence and not his ego–is probably more important than working on his swing.

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2 Responses to Taking Blame Out of the Game

  1. Lee says:

    So Bill, what should the amateur do under intense pressure to give one a better chance to succeed? What routine, what checklist, what works?

  2. Bill Rand says:

    Great question, Lee. And, since it involves more than I can deal with in this reply, a perfect topic for my next post. Watch this space. And thanks.