You would think that starting the day with a 6-shot lead would make the final round a pleasant walk. But not for Steve Stricker – not knowing that the guy chasing him, Paul Goydos, had already shot a sparkling 59 earlier on Thursday.
After 54 holes Stricker was an amazing -25 under par – almost a birdie every other hole – and the commentators were all talking about an assault on the 72-hole scoring record. But by the 12th hole the lead had shrunk to just 3 shots, and with Stricker facing a pivotal 6 foot par putt the talk was about how hard it can be just to hang on.
Stricker eventually held on to win with a 2-shot margin, -26 under par. So what can we learn from Stricker’s win?
Consistent Pre Shot Routines
First, the importance of consistency. And I don’t just mean shot making. Stricker modeled consistency in everything he did. He used the same pre-shot routine with every shot. If he wasn’t sure of his shot or his decision, he backed off, re-committed, and went through his routine again in the same pacing and at the same tempo. Having a well-rehearsed pre-shot routine is a huge key to creating the environment that allows for consistent golf swings. With a good routine you can put your brain on automatic and allow your best swings to emerge. Good routines are comforting, and anything you can do in a pressure situation to feel more comfortable will work to your advantage.
Stricker also used deliberate pacing as a key to produce consistent rhythm in his swing. After all, it’s normal to want to speed up when you feel pressure. You get pumped up, the adrenaline is flowing and you feel hyper alert. But everything Stricker did was designed to keep him in the same rhythm, right down to the measured pace he used walking between shots. And you can bet he did it on purpose. It’s interesting how a little thing like how fast you walk can influence the rhythm of your swing, and something to keep in mind the next time you are under a little pressure. Walk with a deliberate pace, and see if it doesn’t help your rhythm.
Second, Stricker played aggressive golf. He avoided “defensive” golf and instead adopted what Dr. Glen Albaugh refers to as a “conservative strategy, aggressive swing” approach. He picked conservative targets like the side of the fairway away from trouble and he hit to the middle of the greens when he didn’t have a green light pin. Then he hit aggressive shots to his targets.
The danger of defensive golf is that you are trying to “not do” something, like Not go into the water or Not land it short in the bunker. The challenge with this kind of defensive thinking is that your brain sends unclear messages to the body. Your brain sends a clear image of what it Doesn’t want to happen, but it doesn’t send a clear image of what it Does want to happen. Your body, lacking any other instruction, will usually go with the clearest image it can perceive, which, of course, is exactly what you don’t want to have happen.
The answer to hanging tough, as Stricker at the John Deere Classic and Graeme MCDowell at the US Open at Pebble Beach showed, is to pick a specific but conservative target, create a clear mental image of what you want to accomplish, and make an aggressive swing to accomplish your goal.