Masters recap: Beware the emotional golfer and bad decisions

Danny-Willett-Omega-European-Masters-Day-Four-FQ6QKfyzCkmlFor students of the game, the 2016 edition of the Masters provided a cornucopia of learning, especially about the mental game.

Beware the golfer drawing on deep emotions

Part of the beauty of Danny Willett’s victory—in contrast to the ugliness of Jordan Spieth’s quad—was that his wife Nicole gave birth to their first child just before the Masters. To add to the synchronicity of the occasion, she was due on Sunday, April 10 but Zach was delivered last week.

Willett wasn’t even sure he’d compete in the Masters; he was the last player to register.

My theory is that Willett came to the Masters still basking in the beautiful emotions surrounding the birth of a child, which is far more important than any golf tournament.

It’s my sense that Willett swung a little freer, with more sense of surrender and trust than if he had come in focused on himself and what it would take to win his first major championship.

When you’re connected to the greater things in life, rather than shining a narrow spotlight on yourself, there’s more freedom and connection to the good things in your life and the world.

Sound a little flaky for you? Think of Ben Crenshaw winning the 1995 Masters the same week that he attended the funeral of his lifelong mentor and Harvey Penick. “It was kind of like I felt his hand on my shoulder, guiding me along,” Crenshaw said afterwards. Check out Sports Illustrated’s great piece on Crenshaw’s second Masters win.

The re-start

Danny Willett showed the importance of process on the 18th tee Sunday. Everyone around the tee box, including and especially Willett, knew that the Masters title was well within his grasp.

Excitement ran high and he was twice distracted by fans moving around as he approached the ball. Smartly, he and his caddie stopped.

They re-started Willet’s entire process, even getting out the yardage book and picking out their target as a team. He proceeded with the shot, and hit a beautiful drive into the fairway, made a comfortable par and snagged his first major.

At all times, particularly under extreme pressure, working your way nicely through your process is crucial. A routine provides your best opportunity to draw on your skills and perform as best you can.

When your process gets interrupted, you are best to re-start. Your process should be fairly brisk to start with, but you’ll play faster with a few re-starts rather than spending time looking for balls due to compromised swings.

A splash of discomfort and bad decision making

It was obvious that Spieth was not comfortable with his swing throughout the Masters, hitting high weak pushed shots that cost him down the stretch Saturday and certainly on his dunked tee shot on 12 Sunday.

But Spieth could have won without his A-game, admitting that it was largely poor decision-making that led to the quadruple bogey that allowed Willett and everyone back in the tournament.

For one, after birdieing four straight holes to take a five-stroke lead, he started to play for pars. That change in focus may have caused him to swing less aggressively, making him more prone to his faulty mechanics, leading to bogies on 10 and 11.

On 12, he chose to fade a 9-iron even though he wasn’t comfortable with it. “I didn’t take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12,” he said. “Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.”

That’s what tends to happen when a golfer is not comfortable. Instinctually, you know that your body is not capable of the shot you are asking it to hit.

“That was the right club, just the wrong shot. I was more comfortable hitting a draw with my iron. I knew every time I played a fade this week, that shot kind of came out (the high push).

“And I just… at the time you’re going to throw all bad swings away and you’re just going to focus on how confident you can step into that shot and that’s what I did. But the swing just wasn’t quite there to produce the right ball flight.

“So ultimately I should have just played a draw on that hole. At the same time there’s so much adrenaline and it’s enough club that if it’s downwind a draw can fly over the bunkers.”

A part of good decision-making is determining the margin for error with the skills you’ve got to draw on. Even a shot over the back would likely have been found, but a ball in the water is always a goner.

As for dunking his second shot, Spieth said, “I’m not really sure what happened on the next shot.” Namely, he was freaked out. Spieth will learn from this; all great champions suffer their share of calamities.

Why Ernie Els played on

As for the other notable ugly moment of the Masters, Ernie Els shed some light on how he kept going after six-putting the first hole on Thursday. At the time, many people wondered how the four-time major champion, who has been fighting a public battle with the yips, had the tenacity to keep going. (I blogged about it. Click here if you missed it.

In a conversation on Friday with Tim Rosaforte, Els said that he considered quitting after he came off the green. Rosaforte noted in his Golf Monday video segment that Els continued because “he’s a great champion, a hall of famer and a man of integrity.” All true.

Rosaforte, however, also said: “He was thinking about his son Ben and all the children at the autism clinic and foundation that he funds and chairs in Jupiter, Florida. Those kids aren’t quitting and neither was he.”

McIlroy’s major want goes wanting

Rory McIlroy was disappointed once again, and largely shot himself in the foot with a number of bad decisions and defensive swings. He admitted that it might be a matter of wanting it too much.

“This is the one that I haven’t won and this is the one I want to win more than anything else,” McIlroy said. “Once I overcome that mental hurdle that I’m struggling with at the minute, then I know how to play this course…. but it’s just a matter of doing it.”




About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!