The Winner’s Curse

On Tuesday, in, “The Long And Winding Road,” I wrote about the mercurial but persistent career of Jason Gore and how he had managed to win the Nationwide Tour’s Miccosukee Championship in Miami, Florida. It was of note because the win vaulted him to 39th on the money list with two remaining tournaments to get into the top 25 and win back his PGA Tour card. 

He’s now down to just one tournament after missing the cut this week at the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Played on the par 69, TPC Sawgrass (Valley Course), he shot 75, 73 to tie for 128th…in a 144-man field. How does something like that happen? 

It could be the Winner’s Curse. 

With a win comes all sorts of media attention, not only at the site of the win, but at the next week’s site where everybody wants to know if you can do it again. They also want to review last week’s win and probably ask you again why it took so long and what you’re going to do this week to repeat…and if you’re worried about getting your Tour card back. 

Not only is there the media attention, there is the attention from fellow players. That comes in the form of heartfelt congratulations (everybody knows how hard it is and how hard it’s been), conversations loitering on the range to pick your brain and relive your moment vicariously (how can I learn from this too?) and hellos on the range to be seen with you and to be able to say that they know you (I know Jason Gore!). The latter is far less prevalent, but it’s there. 

While almost all are welcome, few of these largely well-intentioned intrusions on the previous week’s mindset are helpful. Oh, they may be to the extent that they give you an ego boost by affirming that you are capable of winning (and the perks that go with it), but we have already discussed that the ego is rarely your friend when you’re trying to stay in the present. 

And then I think we get to the true crux of the Winner’s Curse: validation. There is a gambling game in golf called Skins that has been played forever, but popularized in the last twenty-five years, by the annual, Skins Game, broadcast from Palm Springs each year around Thanksgiving. Each hole is a skin and has a designated value; could be a dollar, could be ten thousand dollars. The lowest score on each hole wins the skin. If the hole is tied, the skin is carried over to the next hole. 

There is a variation I have seen in most tour players’ practice rounds: you must validate your win. If a player wins a hole, he must then validate the skin by tying the lowest score on the next hole. 

It’s hard to know if this is a king-of-the-mountain validation or a gimme-another-chance to-win validation, but I always got the sense that it was the former. And this validation mindset is widespread because, after all, if you win one, you should be able to win a second one. 

If you are someone like Tiger Woods whose ego feeds off of that sort of recognition, that works great. You take the adulation and affirmation in and then descend into your winning, playing mindset. 

But if you’re someone like Jason Gore whose ego may still be recovering from the long drought, rather than affirmation from a win, you may experience a need to validate the win. 

Validation has everything to do with worthiness. But when you are trying to play wondering if you’re worthy, that is a fearful mindset and fear is the number one snatcher of consciousness. You cannot pay undivided attention to the most important things in golf—target, ball, club, body—when your egoic mind has you cringing over your self-worth. 

And once you begin to try to prove yourself rather than playing the game to the best of your conscious abilities (no matter the game), you begin pressing. It’s no different than what I wrote about in yesterday’s, “The Home Game.” Pressing leads to muscling and muscling leads to swing tension and that leads to big mistakes that shock you out of your playing cocoon. 

So hopefully this week’s failure will be a valuable lesson, whatever the cause, and Jason will be able to make up the ground he lost and earn his card back. 

As I said in my original post, with his big, million-dollar smile, the Tour needs guys like Jason Gore.

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