Pugnacious Patrick Reed’s ‘just go play golf’ approach earned him a green jacket

Despite his this-is-serious-stuff demeanour and pugnacious personality, Patrick Reed was swinging with rhythm and grace during Sunday’s final round of the Masters.

Rory McIlroy looked tight, tense and that he was trying hard—the bounce in his step that telegraphs when he’s feeling good became more of a trudge as the afternoon wore on. It’s my sense the enormity of winning the career Grand Slam, never mind the pressure of winning a Masters, is causing McIlroy to press and be perfect.

Asked afterwards about his approach to the Masters, Reed said, “In the past, I put too much pressure on myself. I went out there and tired so hard to get the ball in the hole. I tried so hard to hit the perfect shots.

“Going into this week, I was just like, ‘Hey, it’s golf. Go play.’”

Reed appeared to follow his game nicely, rolling along with the bad breaks and not getting too jacked up with birdies and eagles.

It’s one of the ironies of the game: the more you want a certain result, the more difficult it is to attain it, whether it’s converting a short putt, completing a “good round,” or winning a tournament.

After rounds that they considered important, I’ll often ask clients what they were focused on, and I’ll hear things like “not looking like a hack,” “breaking 80,” or “making the cut.”

And most of the time, they are disappointed. They shot far higher scores than normal or suffered some kind of disaster hole—often both.

Their experiences are common: most report they were tense, their heads swirled with thoughts, and their emotions cascaded all over the place—from joy to relief to anger to resignation.

But when I ask them about their best rounds, they usually say that they weren’t working that hard, good things just seemed to happen, and they stayed relatively, even with the occasional bad break or missed shot.

It’s not uncommon to hear people say after a great round that they were just trying to enjoy themselves, that they didn’t have a grand plan, or admit that they were sick or even hung over—just happy to tee it up that day.

And it’s not unusual to hear a LPGA or PGA Tour player in the post-victory pressroom say that after missing cuts while they were grinding and working intensely on technique, they chilled and just went back to ‘playing golf’ or having fun. It doesn’t mean they didn’t want to win. Perhaps, as comedian Lily Tomlin said, they decided to do something akin to “try softer.”

That sounds pretty close to Reed’s approach to ‘go play.’

It’s easier said than done, especially for tournament golf. Like many things in golf and life, it’s a learned skill.

The difference for high-level athletes is that they have learned to commit themselves to goals, intentions and processes that are more about their experience than about the result. They know that if they take care of their experience, they will perform in a state that makes it possible they can draw on their skills and talent, and get the result they desire.

But it takes preparation and commitment. By committing himself to a strategy of ‘let’s play,’ Reed appeared to be in a controlled state of focus, attention and emotional balance from hole #1 to #72.

It’s starts from an intention, and making a commitment to dedicate yourself to the process.

So, I come back to the question that I asked in my last blog: What do you want from your golf this season?

One of the things that you might consider is the approach you’re going to take into casual and competitive golf (if you compete), and then commit to it. You might be surprised by the power of commitment, and how well you play—without trying so hard.

If kickstarting your 2018 season is important to you, I encourage you to contact me at tim@oconnorgolf.ca or 519.835.5939 about a complimentary coaching session. Let’s talk and see what happens.

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!