Martin Kaymer was nearly perfect for the first 14 holes of Sunday's final round of the Players Championship. Then, after a 90-minute weather delay, he did what all of us have a tendency to do -- he started overthinking things, which got him completely out of his game.
His tee shot on No. 15 ended up behind a pine tree, and instead of playing it safe, he gambled on reaching the green. Kaymer lost, winding up with a double-bogey that cut his lead to one. On the next hole, Kaymer decided to putt from a collection area that probably cost him a relatively easy birdie.
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And on the No. 17 island hole, his tee shot nearly spun back into the water and then he hit perhaps his poorest chip shot of the tournament from the fringe, leaving himself with a 30-foot downhill, twisting putt just to save par. But Kaymer recovered just in time, draining that putt and then a pressure-packed 3-footer on No. 18 to win.
Perhaps we've never played for a victory on the PGA Tour and millions in prize money, but we've all experienced similar feelings there. Maybe it's the pressure of playing in a big tournament. Maybe you're on the way to posting your best round. Maybe you start "scorecard watching" instead of focusing on the task at hand and remaining positive.
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One of the good things about golf is the time you have between shots. Unfortunately, that's also a bad thing, if you start overthinking and letting negative thoughts into your head.
"Most professionals will tell you that it’s important to stay in the moment and not consider outcomes when you’re playing golf," Parker said. "That’s easier said than done."
Parker has two tips on keeping your focus when the pressure's on. The first is a habit you should do every time you step up to the ball.
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"I recommend that my students rehearse their pre-shot routine as part of their practice regime," Parker said. "I find that it’s easier to rely on my routine when the 'heat is on' if I’ve consciously rehearsed it on the practice range."
There's a comfort factor involved at that point, Parker said, if you take each shot step-by-step and try to keep your mind thinking about your routine, rather than the possible outcomes.
Parker offers another tip, which is to intentionally change your pace of play in an attempt to consciously control the moment. Amateurs often get out of rythym because they rush the next shot.
"Try to slow things down when you become nervous," Parker said. "I read that Tiger Woods consciously walked slower between shots to calm himself down and maintain his focus. Most amateurs are only walking from the tee to the cart, but the principle could work here as well."
Golf is a thinking man's game. But there are times when it's better to play golf than to overthink it.