had a one shot lead standing on the 18th tee, the last hole of the US Open championship? It was a text book example of uncontrollable nerves
For the record I am a Phil Mickelson fan so it was intense to watch for me! Yet as a Peak Performance Coach it was equally fascinating to watch the effects of nerves on one of the top players in the world.
Many people, newspapers, magazines and other media chimed in with their assessment of his "collapse."
We heard all the routine summations like "All Phil Mickelson had to do was hit 4 wood off the tee and then a mid iron and 2 putt." Or "even if he hit his 2nd shot out into the fairway and had to hit a wedge or short iron to the green he could have made bogey and been in a playoff."
Virtually every comment focused on what he "shoulda or coulda done".
Hey, it all seems so obvious to us...if only it was that simple...
An inner game perspective of what Phil Mickelson experienced
My take on things is slightly different than the collective wisdom that circulated in the moments and days following the round. Phil Mickelson did exactly what he thought was right in the moment. Or he would have done something else.
I watched his mannerisms and studied his physiology. Anxiety was driving his decisions which was evident in his decision to hit driver. Now I didn't say his "swing" was at fault.
He hadn't hit the driver good all day. His misses were virtually all pulls to the right. He was trying to hit that bread and butter fade off the tee yet kept double crossing. Then as the round went on he naturally overcompensated for the pull and began hitting big flares out to the left.
He hit only one solid drive where he wanted to all day and that was a dogleg right where he aimed over the trees on the right and hit a huge pull. The only shot he was hitting all day!
Now I only mention the above swing issues to highlite the following: Phil Mickelson and his caddy knew very well the shot pattern he was hitting yet it's a major so the caddy can't tell him what to do.
No matter how close we might believe they are it is still Phil Mickelson calling the shots. (Pun fully intended) So the decision to hit driver was the first sign that anxiety was holding the reigns.
Sure enough he hits a big flare fade way left.
If you want to learn how to make sure this doesn't happen to you take a closer look at the
mental game course.
Take note of what the typical shot pattern is under pressure. As well, notice the typical miss of a putt that is made under pressure. They are the same. For a right handed player the miss will be to the right with an iron, driver and putter. For a lefty its obviously reversed.
Why? Nerves won't let you release the club head and hit with authority. Nervousness puts us in a state of uncertainty, not one of confidence. This uncertainty delivers us a non committed swing.
Where did Phil Mickelson make his misses on that last hole??? The same place he missed his last tee shot on the 18th hole of the last Ryder cup when he was paired with Tiger. He hit an upshoot flare fade. They lost the hole. The exact same shot he hit at the recent US Open. Coincidence? I think not.
Look at Colin Montgomery's missed iron on that same hole. He only needed a bogey to be in a playoff as it turned out. He switched irons in the last second (a clear sign of nerves taking hold) even though he had just spent over 5 minutes getting clear on his decision to hit a certain iron he had in his hands.
His miss? An up-shoot flare to the right finishing deep in the rough short sided. He truly couldn't have missed it in a worse spot.
Phil's nightmare continues...
Then Phil Mickelson surveys his approach shot to the green. Stuck several yards behind a huge tree he decides to hit a long iron up and over it trying to hit a huge cut. In my opinion he rushed the shot.
I'm not talking about hindsight stuff here. I'm referring to his pre-shot routine. He made his way through it quicker than normal. Pressure does funny things...
From here on, through to the last putt, he was visibly rattled to the core. His complexion after hitting the tree with his 2nd shot was gray and pasty. He actually looked defeated right there.
In a clear and calm state of mind there is no way he plays that hole the way he did.
But such is life under pressure! With each passing shot his routine became quicker and quicker. If any of you happened to tape it watch it again with these distinctions.
You'll notice his chest heaving from short, accelerated breaths. Close to hyperventilating. At that stage I doubt if he knew where he was. Things must have been a blur.
Phil Mickelson faces the masses
I give Phil Mickelson tremendous credit for gathering himself and agreeing to do an interview so soon after it. Understanding what I do about anchors and how states get stacked on top of each other I certainly would have coached him to not do the interview.
*In my book I go into detail how states are formed and how negative anchors can ruin an otherwise solid game.
He had to relive the nightmare over and over again and hear himself say it to millions of people! Ouch! His comments were "I can't believe I did this. I'm such an idiot. I'm such an idiot. This one is going to sting."
*Note: He also commented on how prior to the tournament he figured that if he just avoided making bogies he could win. Think about how powerful and literal the unconscious was in guiding his decisions under pressure! Remember, he was playing to avoid bogey...
So in looking at his options for his 2nd shot from several yards behind that huge tree he was focused on avoiding bogey. What does that leave? Only a birdie, which of course was unlikely; A Par, which is clearly what he was trying to make and avoid making bogey.
But there was another score that would have him avoid bogey. A double bogey. The unconscious mind takes things literally. He did avoid bogey: he carded a double bogey.
No matter what Phil Mickelson "shoulda or coulda" done, his internal program would not allow him to perceive the moment any different than he did. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it...
I say this not to make fun of such a tragic moment in his life. I am purposely drawing your attention to how perfect our mind is at getting us what we want deep down.
Making sure what happened to Phil Mickelson doesn't happen in your game
Do you know the 3 keys to remaining completely focused under pressure? It is a confidence building feeling that my clients, myself and those who apply the strategies in my book have when we are faced with our own challenges.
Being able to calmly move into your most confident and clear state when the pressure is greatest is one of the most satisfying experiences in the game!
Just think, there you are, in the heat of battle with everything on the line...you casually pull a club from your bag. Focused intently on your target after clearly deciding on your desired shot.
You follow your pre-shot routine like you would on any other shot. Yet you know it is more than that and you call up your own peak performance state and make a full, committed and balanced swing...
When it comes to playing your best golf and shooting consistently low scores your ability to step into and play from your peak state is the key. In the
mental game program
Minding Your Game, you'll learn exactly how to make this a reality in your game.
We can all learn a tremendous amount from Phil Mickelson and mastering our emotions. A clear mind can become a habit and allow you to remain aware of your situation regardless of the competitive stress.
Better decisions equals better scores.
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