Steve Eubanks: Mental strength will decide winner

Rory McIlroy has experienced both the highs and lows of major championship Sundays.

Eubanks: Mental strength will decide winner

Starting and stopping? No big deal. Playing 27 holes in a day? Not unusual. It's the mental strain of this extra-long Sunday, says Steve Eubanks, that will determine the winner.

By Steve Eubanks,

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Physically, it’s not that tough. 

Professional golfers are accustomed to starting and stopping, especially on the East Coast in the summer when thunderstorms can blossom at any place and time. 

Hoofing it for 27 holes on a Sunday is not that unusual or demanding. 

But the mental strain of a championship is always taxing. And when you stretch the final day of a major to 12-plus hours, mental toughness will be pushed to a level some of these players have never seen.  

The edge this afternoon goes to those who have won on the game’s biggest stages, but who have also lost the big ones down the stretch.  Only by knowing both feelings can you stay strong when the anxiety, pressure and fatigue mount.   

“You’ve got to be tough,” the leader Rory McIlroy said after finishing his morning round. “I think you see a lot of guys who haven’t held on in the past, it’s been a first-time experience for them. You know, I learned a lot from the Masters last year, and that’s definitely something that I can think back to and draw on some of those memories, and some of the feelings I had at Congressional as well.”   

Trevor Immelman knows what it feels like to be at the top and at the bottom. After his 2008 Masters win, Immelman suffered a wrist injury that almost ruined his career. His best finish in a major since that time was a tie for 10th in last year’s PGA Championship.  

Sunday morning on the range, Claude Harmon said to Immelman, “Remember this feeling. Look around you. Everybody you would expect to be on the range in the last day of a major is here. And so are you.”  

Immelman played as confidently and aggressively as he has in years, shooting 2 under to crawl into a tie for third. 

“There were times I wondered if would be able to get back and play the way I wanted to play,” he said. “Now, I have nothing to lose. I’ve won one of these before so I know what it feels like, I know what it takes, and hopefully things will go my way this afternoon and we’ll see what happens. I have a chance and all you want is to have a shot.”  

Adam Scott is still looking for his first major, but no one knows better how mentally tough the final round can be.  He even joked about it after the morning session, saying, “We’ve all seen that four (shots) back is not a big deal.”  

“In the last round of a major, in contention, obviously to have a good round and try to win requires mental toughness,” Scott said. “I think this afternoon as it comes down to the back nine, especially at this golf course, it’s going to require everyone’s skill to be at their best.”  

“You have to be mentally tough at any golf tournament let alone a major,” Immelman said. “You certainly have to have your wits about you. The game is so fickle, and this is an interesting style of golf course where you can’t get ahead of yourself.” 

The mind can turn the game so easily. One good swing, one long-lost memory from the recesses of good rounds past, and things can turn around in an instant. On the other hand, one familiar flaw – a pull into a bunker or a putt that spins weakly off the face – and the demons of rounds lost can creep into the crevices of a weak psyche.  

“I came here this week with some fresh ideas and my confidence started growing,” Immelman said. “I started hitting shots I was familiar with. More importantly I was familiar with the misses I was hitting and why they were happening. My short game has been real good. I know it’s in there somewhere. I know what it takes. I’ve proven that to myself. If you get a bit of confidence going, you never know what can happen.”  

Indeed, for the strong of mind and spirit, you never know.