The Art of Overcoming the Choke
Saturday night my sweetie* came home from the first day of a weekend golf tournament feeling anxious.
Not because his game sucked that day, but because it was just the opposite.
He played well enough to be in the hunt for the win, and thus knew it was shaping up to play out like every other high pressure tournament of his where:
He does great in the beginning; and the better he does, the more he chokes.
Case in point is last month’s spring tournament, where he handed over a two stroke lead due to his complete and pure choking the last two holes of the game.
For those international readers not familiar with this slang term, choking is defined as: “to become too tense or nervous to perform well.”
The term may have originated from when women accused as witches were forced to swallow a communion wafer as a test. To choke on the wafer (which, considering the stakes, wouldn’t be surprising) was to fail the test.
Here’s an entertaining list of famous chokes which I don’t recommend reading.
Anyway, Russ recounted several recent stories of his typical “fade out.” In unconscious rehearsal for another one.
He said his golf god and mentor, Rick G., told him he needed to get his head straight if he expected to take home the titles he was capable of winning.
And even knowing he treats my suggestions as a joke (I can still hear him laughing about “making friends with the tree” and rolling his eyes at the “I am a good putter!” mantra I advised) – despite that, I wasn’t deterred in sharing my tip for bringing home this win.
Since it was the pressure of being so close to winning that was messing up his game, I asked when he played his best golf.
He thought for a second and quickly responded, “At work.”
(Yes, he gets to play golf at work. Rough life, I know.)
They have a work league and the other day someone introduced him as “the best golfer in our league.”
Which is probably accurate, much because playing with these guys doesn’t matter all that much. There are no sought after titles or shiny trophies or big pots at stake. But there is some fun competition for bragging rights. No big deal.
So I suggested he pretend he’s just golfing for work, while he was playing the second day at this tournament.
“When you feel pressure creeping in just say to yourself, ‘It’s just another day at work. No one cares. It’s just the work league.'”
He was polite enough not to roll his eyes.
To bring the point home, I told him my stories about:
- when I have a big audience on a call I pretend it’s a small one to not get freaked out.
- I shared about how when one of the animals is at the vet getting a serious test and I’m anxious about the results, I pretend the vet’s already called saying, “Everything’s fine.”
- and how when I’m on a date with a totally hot guy I pretend it’s already a given that he wants to see me again. (Okay, I didn’t tell him about that one, but I thought it.)
It makes a difference in the vibe to play this pretending game. Even though it’s totally made up.
So without making too much fun of me off he went to play day two, positioned in fifth place after first day standings.
It would require some good golf to pull off that win.
Which is exactly what he did!
He came home with a lovely trophy and a big smile, shooting a 69 to win three strokes ahead of the runner up.
He talked about how on the fourth hole where he duck-hooked it the first day to miss the green by 20 yards – this time he “stuck it three feet.” From bogey on Saturday to birdie on Sunday. (Whatever all that means. All I understood was that it was a nice comeback.)
I asked what made the difference.
He said he slowed his game down and repeated to himself over and over when he started feeling tense, “work league, work league, work league.” He laughed as he told me about it.
I was incredulous. My sweetie?! Listened and applied?! Woo Hoo!!
That’s the true miracle here in this story – don’t give up on our stubborn sweeties. 😉
But the real reason I share this story – besides that Nancy suggested it would make a good blog post after she read about it at GVU – is to point out how simple it can be to turn things around.
In the words of my sweetie (from an email to his son):
I had a completely different mindset on Sunday and tried to relax and think of it as just another work match, where I am considered the best player in the league. It worked – credit goes to Jeannette who gave me the idea on the new thought process. I also slowed everything and tried to be more patient.
My work here is done. 🙂