A Lesson Learned: Becoming a Pressure Player

jim furyk
Photo: Getty Images
Jim Furyk's clutch play won him The Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup.
Ted Fort, PGA

Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Sunday, September 26, 2010 | 9:31 p.m.

Jim Furyk finished with an amazing bunker shot on the 18th hole to win $1.35 million in the Tour Championship at East Lake and an additional $10 million in the FedEx Cup. He was able to handle the pressure that would bring most of us (mere mortals) to tears.

Soon, there will be another event that will challenge the best in the world, the Ryder Cup. How does anyone stand the pressure of such events? Most of us will never participate on this level, but we all have our own Championships.

The pressure of the Member-Guest or the Club Championship may be enough to make the knees tremble. And, managing this pressure is this week's "A Lesson Learned."

If something is important to you, it can make you nervous when wanting to succeed. No matter the façade an opponent may exhibit, everyone feels nervousness. After spending countless hours preparing for an event, you have two choices. You can welcome the opportunity and the nervousness, and expect to succeed. Or, you can let the pressure consume your thoughts, and expect failure.

There are a couple of secrets to managing your nerves, when you find yourself in the tournament pressure cooker. Having a routine and sticking to it can be a good distraction. And, in Jim Furyk, there's no better example. He finds himself in his own world, following the same routine he has rehearsed thousands of times. If his routine is interrupted, he starts over. It gives the player comfort and familiarity in the situation, even though he has never before been in that exact moment.

But, don't mistake this as a license to play a 9 hour round. We honor our fellow competitors by being ready to play. So, much of our preparatory work as in the reading of greens or in the calculation of yardages can be done ahead of the start to your pre-shot routine. Remain busy to create good distractions, instead of contemplating consequences of your actions.

Another good distraction is visualization. This takes the artist's side of the brain, which is sometimes difficult for the mathematician. You must see the path of the ball before it's struck. It's best to remember the shot of your life and to do your best to repeat it. Although it's illogical to expect that the shot of your life is going to occur when needed, the golfer has to expect great things to be successful.

Through our experience as golfers, we know that our percentage of perfect golf shots is very low. So, how can we expect something, with such a low percentage of success, to happen at the most important time of our life?

The answer is simple: you MUST expect it. Expecting failure creates a 100% chance of failure. Expecting success creates a slim chance of success. Learn to love the pressure and feelings of nervousness, because it's your time. It's your chance to overcome them and to succeed!

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