Two relatively unknown golfers, both in potential life-changing situations, needing one round - or even one hole - to dramatically alter their golf careers forevers. One came through, the other lost in a mind-blowing way.
What did this past weekend's tournaments tell us about these two young men? That both are outstanding golfers. You cannot enter the final day of a PGA Tour event or a mega high-profile event like Abu Dhabi unless you have incredible talent. Other than that, it's hard to extrapolate any other future success based on one week. But we all learned something about handling pressure how it looks when done well, and unfortunately, how it looks when it isn't handled properly.
The key thing to remember is: ALL golfers feel pressure. Tiger Woods once said that feeling nervous means you care, it helps sharpen your focus. A bit ironic in that one golfer this past week who felt enormous pressure was Robert Rock. The young Englishman was playing against his boyhood idol, Tiger Woods, as they were tied for the lead heading into the final round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in Dubai. All he did was withstand an early couple of birdies from Tiger, keep his game together and pull away on the back nine for his (thus far) signature win of his life.
On the other side of the planet, at beautiful Torrey Pines, Kyle Stanley had a seven shot lead at one point Sunday, a 4 shot lead as he stood on the 18th tee and ended up losing in a playoff. What?
Stanley's nerves got the best of him on the back nine. Even as he was making pars, he was making incredible saves to do it. Rock never showed those nerves. He seemed cool and collected the whole day. But they were both battling the same inner emotions.
I played on various Tours for 4 years and teach every level of player now. All golfers are going to feel great pressure, it's one of the basics and the joys of the game. I tell people there are two ways to deal with it. Don't battle pressure, it's not going to go away. But think about two things when you feel the stress of the situation get a hold of you.
1.) Believe in yourself. Through your past experiences, your practice and through visualization, you can overcome almost any shot that is called for. Focus on steady breathing, go through your normal pre-shot routine and find a comfort zone as you prepare your shot.
2.) Distract yourself between shots - It's all about tricking the mind. I see too many players hit a shot and then immediately start to agonize and vent and then let it carry over to the next shot. You can't maintain concentration and focus for that long. The nerves will get to you for certain. My suggestion - as you go to your next shot, try to focus on a positive experience from the past or something that makes you happy, it doesn't even necessarily need to be golf related. Take a look around - breathe, take in the weather and enjoy the moment. These situations are not simple at all but the more you do it, the more success you will have.
Remember, in every situation, even on every first tee, you should feel nervous. It's part of golf. And sometimes, if the nerves win out on a shot or on a round, that's part of golf too. I honestly feel like you learn more from failure than you do from success. But when you find a place where you can deal with the pressure, it will do nothing but help your game from then on. Kyle Stanley will be back, he is too good. Robert Rock won't win every tournament, he'll come through and he'll mess up - like all golfers. But this particular week, the way the two handled similar situations taught us all how we can become better players for our own games.
Blake Graham is the PGA Head Professional at Hallbrook Country Club in Overland Park, Kansas. He is a two-time Midwest Section PGA Player of the Year. You can follow Blake on Twitter at @BlakeGrahamPGA