Former European Tour pro turned coach Markus Westerberg discusses the psychological barrier of conquering tricky par-3 holes
TPC Sawgrass is an amazing golf course. Some holes provide you with opportunities, but every hole will challenge you. Some holes will have you face your demons. Nowhere is this as true as on the famous 17th. Here, you need to be emotionally intelligent.
The imperative skill of emotional intelligence
In sport, it is often said that the team or player who has nothing to lose is dangerous, and it somewhat holds true. But have you thought of what having nothing to lose means you’re out of contention? It’s a comfortable feeling, but is that really what you want?
The ability to accept your emotions and to understand what your emotions represent is a part of your emotional intelligence.
In order to perform under pressure, you need to be emotionally intelligent.
Club golfers and tour professionals alike fall for the trap of comfort – what feels good is good. It rarely is. Imagine you’re standing on the 17th tee at Sawgrass. Would you like to have the chance of blowing a great score or would you want to feel comfortable because you had a bad day? Before the round or tournament, you would say, “Of course I would like to play well.” But then you would have to face all of yourself on this famous tee shot.
How to conquer the 17th at Sawgrass
The 17th at Sawgrass is actually a good birdie opportunity. It plays a mere 130 yards and pros are deadly at this distance, but the 17th can also be a bottomless pit – you can get stuck at the tee.
Normally a bad shot puts you in a bad position and you risk making a bogey. It’s annoying, but not more than that. At 17, you can get stuck at the tee. You have to hit grass or sand or you need to play the shot again. Every player knows this and they think about it well ahead of the Players.
But do the pros really experience these emotions? The foremost artists of their profession who has hit hundreds of thousands of balls and are as much in control of the golf ball as any on the planet? Let me assure you, they do. Because they are human.
This is how you handle your demons
The short par-3 late in the round provides a “negative challenge”. It means that you need to only not hit a bad shot. The key word here is “not”. You only need to not play a bad shot.
This is reality, but you can’t think this way. Even though you know this is reality, you need to put your mind to what you want to have happen. This is the key to performance psychology and, even more so, it is the key to playing the 17th at Sawgrass.
At the tee, you need to pick your target – most often the middle of the green – then visualise your ball going there. The more you have practiced this mindset, the better you get at it.
The challenge is to keep up this practice when your inner is in turmoil, when you feel your pulse at your temples, your mouth dries out, and breathing becomes difficult.
This is where your emotional intelligence is key to your success. The emotionally intelligent golfer accepts his emotions and focuses on what he wants to have happen.
The less emotionally intelligent golfer fears his anxiety or sees it as a sign of weakness. It’s not. Your anxiety means that you are on the verge of opportunity. And in the case of the Sunday leader at the Players, it means that he has a chance to win.
Markus’s picks for the Players
Besides the given favourites of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, I would like to give a heads up for Sawgrass local Lanto Griffin. He knows the course well, is mentored by the legend Vijay Singh, and he has established himself in the top 100 in the world.
Griffin also comes from a steady string of tournaments where he is waiting for the cap on the crown. He is hungry for more and, for me, the Players might just be his week.
About The Golfer’s Sixth Sense
If you want to know more about emotional intelligence in golf and the mental interplay between your emotions and your performance on the golf course, you can buy Markus’s book, The Golfer’s Sixth Sense on Amazon.