Break the rules

So how do skills break down under pressure when at any other time they are repeatedly executed with apparent ease and precision? Karl Steptoe explains

Greg Norman US Masters

Commitment, concentration, emotional control and dedication ...just some of the characteristics needed for all of us glued to the television for the US Masters. Whatever the outcome I am certain there be key shots that will shape the tournament with a golf course waiting to pounce on anyone who does not have the technical and mental capacity to get the job done.

The tournament's history provides psychologists with endless material with which to demonstrate the importance of mental strength. The ordinarily unflappable, machine like Tour professional has on numerous occasions succumbed to the extra meaning that a Major provokes.

So how do skills break down under pressure when at any other time they are repeatedly executed with apparent ease and precision? How did Scott Hoch miss from inside three feet and why did Greg Norman let go of a seemingly unassailable lead? What we understand is that the importance creates a focus of attention that is not normally present. There can be a tendency to start trying harder, breaking routines and focusing on elements of performance that are normally automatic.

Imagine drinking a glass of red wine. If I asked you to be careful as you carried it over my white carpet I would increase your chances of spilling it; you would try and control a movement that would ordinarily be carried out with little thought.

Golfers who do not carry round all these rules are often described as 'feel' players but this implies that they have an ability that cant be learnt, which is just not the case! They have simply learnt in a different way. They have interpreted the words into feelings or thoughts that encompass many things that may not be of any meaning to anyone else.

Next time you play with a card in your hand make a note of how many rules or swing thoughts you take on to the course with you and at what times you think more about them. It's at these times that attention needs to be taken away from how to do it with a commitment to consistent routines.

Karl Steptoe BSc, MSc, works with club golfers and European Tour Professionals through his Sport psychology consultancy a mind to perform Ltd and Golf Mental. He is also a PGA Advanced Professional and is involved in doctoral research looking at performance under pressure in golf.

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