A Lesson Learned: Focus on process

Bill Haas
Getty Images
When facing a putt of consequence, the last thing you want to do is think about what's at stake.
By
Josh Nichols, PGA
PGA.com

Problem Area: Putting
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, September 25, 2011 | 11:15 p.m.

What an incredible Sunday we had in golf. The end of the Solheim Cup was dramatic and emotional. Congratulations to the European team for an incredible win. And then all eyes turned back to East Lake Golf Club and the Tour Championship presented by Coca Cola. I don't think you can get more intense than what we had here. I was fortunate enough to be at East Lake for this championship and the atmosphere there was as intense, if not more so, than what you saw on television. 

There were so many subplots going on it was hard to keep track for a long time, but when it all settled - it came down to whoever won the playoff was going to win the FedExCup. Imagine, the chance to beat one other player in a playoff and the winner gets over $11 million. Can you picture that? Because I'm not sure I can.

The easiest topic for "A Lesson Learned" would be the incredible, and I mean incredible, shot out of the water by Bill Haas on the 17th hole. With over $11 million on the line, it had to be one of the great shots of the year if not in history. Think about that, that miracle shot ultimately led him to winning all that money. But the reason that this article would be so easy is because I'd tell you what I'd tell all my students. "Don't." For 99% of golfers, you're going to score better by following the rules, taking a proper drop, and trying to get up and down (or even chipping up and a two putt for double bogey) than trying to hit it out of a lake.

But the shot that may have the most application to you was the clinching putt Bill Haas made on the third playoff hole. It seemed pretty simple, a mostly straight four footer going up the slope.

But if you've ever had a putt to win your weekend match, break 90 or 80 for the first time or win the club championship, you know how pressure can affect you. So try one of those putts for eight figures - see how that feels!

So what's a golfer to do when faced with any important putt, much less perhaps the most important putt of ones career?

For me, it's a simple message to my students: "Focus on the process."

By process, I'm referring to everything from your pre-shot routine to the actual putting stroke. Do NOT think about the result or the stakes on the putt. Just do what you need to do to make the best putting stroke possible. If you do that, the results will take care of themselves.

 1.) Focus on slowing down: You'll feel your heartrate speed up, your hands will sweat, your head will swirl full of thoughts. Take a deep breath. Walk a little slower. Go through your entire pre-shot routine in a deliberate fashion.
 2.) Focus on the stroke: Here, you really need to sharpen your focus. Many golfers look for a smaller goal, rolling the ball over a specific spot or replicating their practice stroke in length and pace. Again, do not think about how important the putt is, think about how important a good stroke is.

I doubt many of you will ever face a putt for $11 million. I do believe most of you will face a putt that will mean a whole lot to you. And when you do, I hope you make it. If you remember that making a good stroke will do more to help you make it more than "wanting to" ever could, your chances will be much better. Good luck!

Josh Nichols is the PGA Head Professional at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth, GA.


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