A Lesson Learned: Perspective helps with pressure

By Jeff Coston, PGA
Published on

Last week, I competed in one of my favorite events - the PGA Professional National Championship. This past weekend, Inbee Park not only won the Women's U.S. Open but managed to make it her third straight major championship this year. I had a great chance to meet my goal - to finish in the top 20 and become the only grandfather in the field at this year's PGA Championship. I came up a bit short. Inbee had a chance to do something no woman has done in more than half a century - win the season's first three majors. She accomplished her goal convincingly.

This week's "A Lesson Learned" has to do with the pressure that comes with playing in your biggest event of the season or year. We all have them. Whether it's a high school tournament, a club championship or a U.S. Open qualifier, all golfers tend to point towards one or two events as the ones that will make or break their year in golf.

In order to peak at the right time, you have to do three things.
1.) Be mentally tough and able to control your emotions
2.) Be comfortable and confident in your own skin
3.) Have a great awareness of your abilities and potential

All golfers who compete at high levels understand the importance of these three items. But understanding and doing can be different things.

At Sunriver, in the final round, I was doing pretty well - I was five-under through the first six holes of the final round. I was in the top 10 at the time and right in position I had worked so hard to be in. Then I had a wait on the 8th tee and made a mistake with my tee shot which led to a double bogey. I made a couple more doubles and ended up one shot out of the playoff for the PGA Championship spots. I'm proud of my week but certainly, that finish was a bit disappointing.

Inbee Park was in the position she needed to be in. She played smart, didn't press or take unnecessary risks and relied on her strengths - including an outstanding putting stroke - to win at Sebonack. In the three most important championships so far this year, Park has risen to the occasion. That's 12 rounds where she has not let the pressure affect her enough to hurt her chance to win. That's crazy incredible.

For some quick perspective, Tiger Woods won three majors in a row in 2001 and golf fans may talk about that year forever. Park just did that and has a chance to win two more this year. That deserves a wow.

So back to dealing with pressure, how do you play your best when it counts the most?

I tell all my students that pressure is normal, pressure is part of the excitement, but there are always more important things in life than golf. Don't make the game bigger than life. Keep your focus but also keep your perspective. You'll then learn to enjoy the pressure that comes from golf - not suffer from it. Pressure can make you freeze up and lose, or it can help you overcome and conquer.

I've been in situations to win championships and I've come out on top - like earlier this year, I made the cut and tied for the low PGA Club Professional at the Senior PGA Championship. I've also come up short in championships. But I always know I'm going to work hard and put myself in position to compete again. Winning and losing is not the end of the world. And when you understand that - you're going to end up winning more than you know.

And Inbee Park understands that. She knows she won't win every time she tees it up. And what fun would that be - to not have the challenge and pressure to overcome. (If Park wins the next two majors, I rescind that last sentence.)

Golf is the greatest game in the world - you should enjoy every aspect of it, including the pressure. When you know that the next event is going to mean more than most, do all you can to prepare properly. Then remember that there are other things that matter in your life too.

Here's hoping you, your golf game and your week will be great. Have a happy 4th of July.

Jeff Coston is the PGA Teaching Professional at Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, Wash. Coston has played on the PGA Tour, played in 3 PGA Championships, 3 Senior PGA Championships and one U.S. Open. You can learn more about Jeff Coston at his website.