Last week, I shot -4 and earned medalist honors at my local U.S. Mid Am qualifier. A dream come true!
It was the hardest mental battle I've ever had. Here is what was going through my head all day, and hopefully, you can learn something for your own game...
I have come close to making the U.S. Mid-Am three times before. But before I tee it up, I am always reasonable with my expectations.
In the past, it would take a truly remarkable round to make it. But I've gotten better, so now I know it won't take a perfect round.
However, I still realize it is still a low-probability event. The competition is fierce! That doesn't mean I tee it up with a defeatist attitude. But at the same time, I have to have a dose of healthy realism, or else I can't perform my best.
I find the hardest situations to deal with in competition are when you get off to a hot start or a bad start. They are tricky for different reasons. I was -3 thru 4, and naturally, I knew something good was happening.
I had my A-game with my irons and putter and felt really good over the ball. But I still have 14 holes left! My heart is already pounding. How do I deal with the next 3+ hours?
In a normal round of golf, I can mostly divert my mind from thinking about my score too much. But I find that almost impossible to do in an event like this. So I don't scold myself. I just let it in. And I thought about the result A LOT.
So while I always tell people you have to do your best not to think about results, you cannot expect perfection! Or else you'll be stuck in a situation where you are constantly disappointed in something that is out of your control. You cannot fully manage your brain.
But my goal is always to divert my mind as quickly as I can. I have a "bag of tricks" that I can go to. I focus on my breathing when I have to. Other times I think about my kids or other happy memories. I chat with my playing partners. I consciously slow down my walking.
So in between shots, I do my best to occupy my mind. But when I get to my ball, I can go into my mental cocoon. My routine is something I've built for years. Things get way more comfortable because I can flick the autopilot button.
That doesn't mean I don't get nervous or have perfect mental thoughts. But the noise is much quieter, and I'm just executing something I've done thousands of times under pressure. You really don't need to be perfect mentally. Which leads me to my next point....
Experience in golf matters so so so much. Whatever level of play or competition you are looking to get comfortable with, you need to expose yourself to it enough. Over the past ten years, I have played hundreds of competitive rounds. I have had some embarrassing, bad moments.
But each time, I tried to learn something and pay attention to what happened when I felt the pressure. Also, I have come to terms with all results. I had over 3 hours to think about "blowing it" But I knew even if I did, things would be OK. I've blown it before!
So when people tell me they are playing their first competition, I always remind them that you genuinely can't expect much of yourself. It's an entirely different style of golf, and if you want to get better at it, you need to be prepared to expose yourself to the good and bad.
Every single demon seemed to show up that day. But when I got as low as -5, I kept telling myself I was going to do it. Positive self-talk is a savior in situations like that. And perhaps more importantly, the ability to forgive yourself when things don't work out.
On the 16th hole, I missed my first putt of the day inside 5-6 feet for a bogey. We got to an incredibly daunting, long par 3, and then I realized my rangefinder broke. No worries. Still got my GPS and plenty of info. I told myself it is not any kind of bad omen!
I striped a 5-iron to the center of the green to about 40 feet. A tremendous shot, I told myself for the situation and difficulty of the green complex. But I left myself a slippery 6 footer. Went through my routine exactly as I would on the first hole and sank it.
Luckily, 18 was a short par 5. I clipped a tree with my drive and had about 280 in. Hit it as close to the green as possible. I was faced with a shot over a bunker, but I calmed myself and knocked it to about 13-14 feet.
Tapped in for my par, and 25+ years of emotion in this game came out. Golf has been important to me for a very long time, and having a round like that was truly unimaginable for most of those years. It was an incredibly gratifying moment that I'll never forget!
I can't wait to compete at Sleepy Hollow. Maybe I'll crash and burn. Or I'll get hot, and who knows what happens. Either way, when you step into the arena, you must prepare to accept all results and enjoy the ride as best as you can! Thanks for everyone's support.