There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the poise Collin Morikawa showed under pressure during the final round of the 149th Open Championship. Winning two majors in eight tries is just an incredible feat. Although we watched a spectacular performance, it was really what we heard that caught my attention. The candid conversations between Morikawa and his caddie JJ Jakovac succinctly showed how Collin not only handled the pressure, but actually controlled it.
PGA Coach Rick Sessinghaus has been working with the Champion Golfer of the Year (Morikawa) since he was eight years old. Dr. Sessinghaus is known as a world-class mental performance coach. Every golfer can play well physically. There’s no doubt Collin’s swing is amazing, but what is most impressive and what differentiates him from his peers in these major moments is that mental training. One aspect of that performance preparation was on full display Sunday.
Selecting a target is vital to hitting successful shots in golf. At times yesterday, you could hear the conversation between caddie and player. Even the commentators marveled over how precise their target selection was. “See the guy in the blue and white?” utters Collin, and JJ responds with “In the stripes, yes.” The person they discussed was over 130 yards away! That level of precision in decision making can be very powerful for a couple reasons:
Making your target super specific will help your level of focus. If you aim for the green and miss by 10 yards, you’ll be in the rough or a bunker. If you aim for the hole, or something similarly specific and miss by 10 yards you will probably still be on the putting surface. There are countless examples of how this works in your favor so start selecting very small and specific targets.
Actively going through the process of selecting such a tight target occupies the brain. It will keep your focus on the positive and away from thinking about anything else but where you WANT to go. For example, when you select that simple, small target, keep thinking about it. Don’t stop. Obsess over it. If it’s a tree, consider what leaf you are aiming for, how vivid the color of that leaf is, its shape, etc.
Morikawa’s ability to perform in pressure-filled scenarios is proof positive using this process works. Many of you reading this may feel you aren’t skilled enough to select such a small target. Guess what, neither is Collin. By focusing on such a small positive target, your shots will find themselves closer to the target on average.
Here’s a very fun and representative example of how effectively this works. Have you ever been in a situation where you are playing a hole and a greenskeeper mower is working on the hole? They pull off to the side and out of the way, but since they are there, we worry about them. Of course, you hit the shot and the ball heads right toward the mower even though it is nowhere near your actual target.
That’s how powerful our focus can be. Why not use that influence to hit shots toward our target? The next time you are practicing at the range, start selecting smaller targets. If you’re chipping, try to make it. If it is a 100-yard shot, try and hit the flagstick. It only sounds crazy until you find more of your shots end up closer to the target.
The most efficient way to lower your score is to get the ball closer to the hole. Be confident like Collin and choose your targets wisely. Lock in your mental approach and your swing will surely follow.
Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.