It is always fascinating to watch how golfers of all levels perform when they’re in contention to win a tournament or a Major. The best players embrace being in that situation whereas those who seldom, if ever, win when in contention are just so uncomfortable that they sabotage themselves to the point of being back in their comfort zones and out of the winner’s circle.

The first thing you must do if you struggle to convert contending into winning is to be brutally honest with yourself as to the reasons why. Do you always hit the same poor shot under pressure, or react to poor shots by getting so mad that you follow a bad shot with another one or several? And what has been going on in your head when your destructive shots have occurred?
Sometimes, if you have a regular golfing partner, and you respect their opinion, they can often offer insights into what they have observed when things go wrong for you.

It isn’t a surprise that more and more of the top professionals pay a lot of money to psychologists to help them ’think well’ on the course. Given that a typical round on tour these days takes upwards of four-and-a-half hours, of which less than an hour is spent actually hitting shots, that leaves a lot of time to control the thoughts in your head.

We all know that we should let go of poor shots and only concentrate on one shot at a time but very few of us, even professionals, find that possible to do.

Probably the two best players I have ever watched who do stay in the present are Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods.

Nobody watching will forget the 75-foot extremely fast and breaking downhill putt that Paula went on to hole in the play-off There is absolutely no doubt that their ability to concentrate and block out past mistakes or disturbances have greatly contributed to their outstanding success. Recently I watched the HSBC Champions event from Singapore as a studio guest for Sky Sports and witnessed Paula Creamer in the final round put a missed three-footer on the 13th hole out of her mind to go on to hole out from between three and six feet on each of the next five holes and earn a place in the play-off with Spain’s Azahara Munoz.

Nobody watching will forget the 75-foot extremely fast and breaking downhill putt that Paula went on to hole in the play-off. But it wouldn’t have been possible if Paula hadn’t had the mental strength to put that missed three-footer out of her mind.

There are often things that we would like to be different when we play golf but we must differentiate between those things that are out of our control, such as the course conditions, the weather and our playing partners, and those that we can control, such as how we behave on the course, including our reaction to the shots that we hit.

There are many things that we can do to change the way that we behave on the course as long as we recognise how we can affect the outcome of our golf by our actions.

Undoubtedly Sweden’s Pia Nilsson and the American Lynn Marriot have helped many professionals improve by improving their mentality. I can well remember the occasion when they had worked briefly with Brittany Lincicome during the week prior to the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

I’m sure that Brittany would be the first to admit that she was known to have a temper and react badly to her poor shots, which in turn led to more poor shots. Brittany’s behaviour was very evident to anyone watching her play but she seemed incapable of being able to help herself until Pia gave her a ‘tool’ to change her reaction to a poor shot.

Very simply, whenever Brittany noticed that she was getting angry with herself, she was to sing a happy song. This sounds incredibly simplistic, but if you try it, it’s all but impossible to be angry at the same time! Brittany went on to win and played one of the shots of the year on the 72nd hole to within two feet of the hole.

I am constantly amazed that so many golfers get so angry with themselves when they hit poor shots, often calling themselves names. I often ask players how they would speak to a friend if their friend was having a bad day.

“Well, I’d be encouraging and try to put positive thoughts in their minds reminding them of how well they’d played previously.”
I then ask them why they treat their friends so much better than themselves and it often makes them stop and think!

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