Choking

I was skimming up my Twitter timeline Sunday afternoon looking for something to add to my post about the LPGA Tour finish.

Suddenly, I came across a tweet from a PGA Tour player:

Choke!

Since I’d just watched Amy Yang miss a five-footer she would probably need to stay in a playoff, I assumed that he was talking about her. It could have been something else, but the timing was just too perfect.

So I replied to his tweet:

When you can begin to have compassion for other’s chokes, perhaps you can have more for your own #golfmastery

I shouldn’t have done it. It was a blatant example of coaching without invitation. But his juicy ego hanging curveball was just too irresistible. And the 140-character Twitter constraint is just stark enough that I thought it might actually register and be seen as a contribution. Kind of like when a haiku sneaks up on you out of nowhere.

And basically, that’s what choking is all about: ego. For the choker, it’s all about fearing that you will look bad by not performing on demand. And for the critic, it’s about fearing that you’ll look bad when it’s your turn. Perhaps if you can hurl invectives at the incompetent schlub, you can build a firewall of fierce determination for yourself, some sort of a perverse standard.

It won’t work. It won’t work because what underlies all of it is fear.

You can begin to move beyond fear with experience. It came up Tuesday in FedExCup points leader, Webb Simpson’s, media center visit when the subject of next week’s $10 million first prize came up:

You know, at the end of the day, we want to win golf tournaments, but when $10 million is at stake, you can’t not think about that. Part of me is kind of happy this week isn’t determining who’s going to win [the Cup] because you get one more week to focus on the golf. I know [next week] in Atlanta it’ll be a lot more focus I’m sure on the $10 million.

And then the subject turned to choking:

You know, I think every player, including the best player of our day, Tiger Woods, has had times where he hasn’t performed under the gun. So I mean, I think there’s times that you can say a player choked, but at the same time there’s so many things that we’re dealing with on the last hole, and for me, the money or winning a tournament, what that means, that doesn’t really affect me as I just want to hit this golf shot with all this pressure, and if I don’t do it then I didn’t do it and I need to learn.

For example, last year at Las Vegas I was leading the tournament by one standing on the 17th hole and I was nervous as can be leading a golf tournament. I hit it left in the water. People can call it a choke, but at the same time it was the way I handled being nervous in that situation, and I learned from it. I was in the exact same situation in New Orleans this year with Bubba Watson: 17th hole, had water left, par-3, longer hole, and I hit a great shot. It wasn’t that – I don’t think it was that I didn’t choke then, it was just, hey, I learned from my mistake then and getting quick in my swing, and now I was able to perform under the gun.

If I’m standing over a putt on 18 at East Lake and it’s for the FedExCup, I’m sure I’ll be ridiculously nervous. But I’ll be over it and thinking I’m going to do the best I can to start this ball on line.

And so the antidote for fear is always the same: getting out of your head and into the present, this shot, right here, right now. Target, target, target and what shot can I hit that will get it there without worrying about whether I can?

See the target. See the shot. Hit the shot.

Then you can think about the $10 million.

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One Response to Choking

  1. jeff glosser says:

    Situations in which we can choke abound in our lives. Golf is no different. Golf has no special pressure when compared to our daily lives. No special sympathy for golfers who choke is deserved.
    Compare and contrast our lives with those in the military in combat situations. They have real reason to choke, not us.