Confession time. How many times have you thought to yourself, “Well, if I play even-par golf over the final six holes. I’ll shoot my lowest round ever?” Or, “If we just halve two of our last three holes, we’ll win the match?”
All golfers, even the very best players in the world, are guilty of looking ahead from time to time. When Annika Sorenstam became the first female golfer to shoot 59 in an LPGA Tour event at the 2001 Standard Register Ping, she birdied eight consecutive holes to start her round and quickly found herself at 8-under par. But then the gallery started to swell, her mind began to wander and she made a par on her ninth hole—a par she later described as a “relief” because she was beginning to feel the pressure of being perfect. She then followed her par with four more birdies to go 12 under through 13 holes.
At this year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek Golf Club, Ariya Jutanugarn held what appeared to be an insurmountable seven-shot lead after nine holes. But then she found the hazard with her tee shot at the par-4 10th hole and made triple bogey, and after a bogey on No 12 her seven-shot advantage was suddenly down to one. Following a bogey-bogey finish, Jutanugarn found herself in a two-hole aggregate playoff with Hyo Joo Kim, something that seemed inconceivable just two hours earlier.
“Annika, when she would get too future-focused her swing would speed up, her talking would speed up,” said Lynn Marriott, who along with VISION54 co-founder Pia Nilsson has coached nine different major champions, including Sorenstam and Jutanugarn. “It was literally as if she was getting ahead of herself. With Ariya, it’s different. She’s not present. It’s not that she’s lazy, she just doesn’t get herself collected in the Think Box.”
Afterwards, Jutanugarn admitted she started to think about the 2016 ANA Inspiration, when she finished bogey-bogey-bogey to go from two up with three holes to play to two shots back, in fourth place. She started to think about the outcome, which is something she didn’t do on the front nine.
“She hit mostly okay shots [on the back nine] but they weren’t great,” said Nilsson, who was Sorenstam’s Swedish national team coach. “However, she caught herself during the playoff, had a talk with herself. She was like, ‘I can still do something about it, I need to do something.’ Anytime you feel like you’re losing it your first order of business is to make sure you collect yourself. You get present and you feel what it is you’re going to do before you step in the Play Box. She’s gotten much better at it.
Added Nilsson. “For Ariya, she needs to feel it in her heart. That’s when the smile comes. She needs to slow things down in her Think Box and not step in [to the Play Box] until she can totally feel the shot and have that good feeling.”
After falling behind a shot in the playoff, Jutanugarn forced a third extra hole with a par and then got up-and-down on No. 18, the fourth playoff hole, to capture her second major and avoid another disastrous finish.
“The thing with Ariya now, much like Annika, is that she’s so immediately honest with what’s going on,” said Marriott. “Some players are not comfortable enough with themselves to be honest. After the first playoff hole, on the walk to the next tee, she caught her bad self-talk. There was no more pity party. She caught herself and said, ‘Now, c’mon, what would make yourself proud? How do you want to finish this?’ When she won that second playoff hole, you could see she just took charge of herself. “
3 WAYS TO TURN BACK THE FUTURE
Jutanugarn is a 10-time winner on the LPGA Tour whose about to capture her second Rolex Player of Year award in three years. How does the recreational golfer stop becoming so super-obsessed with the outcome (i.e., score, final results) and more focused on the present, or shot at hand? Marriott and Nilsson, two of the game’s foremost performance experts and the authors of several books, including Every Shot Must Have a Purpose and Be a Player, provided a few strategies to combat looking ahead following their appearance on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive earlier this week.
- Catch Yourself in the Act. Recognize what happens to you when you become too outcome-focused. Maybe your swing tempo gets too fast or your muscles become too tight and you lose your technique. “The more efficiently you can catch yourself mid screw-up, the quicker you can do something about it,” says Marriott.
- Slow Down. One of the things we often see on the course with amateurs is that they tend to speed up under pressure. Slow down and take a deep, long exhale before stepping into the Play Box. Take a moment to collect yourself and don’t step up to the ball until you have a good feeling about the shot you’re about to hit. Tap into your positive memory bank and recall the perfect tee shot you hit on the same hole previously, or the tight draw you hit several holes before.
- Get Present. Usually golfers get so obsessed with the outcome and where the ball is going that they lose their feel. They know they might need to feel a slower tempo or feel their core turning, but they just forget about it. That’s because they’re not present. What you need to do is distract yourself from the outcome and put it in the background, says Nilsson. This is where it’s good to have an intentional feel to your Think Box. For example: Feel like your shoulders are staying soft throughout your entire practice swing and then carry that feeling of “soft shoulders” into the Play Box and your swing; or hum a song that helps you create a slower tempo. The more white noise you can create, the more likely you are to drown out thoughts about the outcome.
When you find yourself thinking ahead have a conversation with yourself and ask yourself, “Am I here now?” If the answer is yes, then the next question is, “What am I going to do about it?” Because if you don’t know what you’re going to do about it, you’re just going to go back to thinking about the future.