Playing Your Best With a Lead in Golf
Have you ever been leading by a comfortable margin heading towards the last few holes only to see your lead dissipate by the 18th hole?
Maybe you have played a tournament where you had a 4-stroke plus lead going in to the final round and wound up in a playoff because you blew the lead?
What exactly happens to your game when you give up a significant lead at the end of a round?
Did you lose the ability to swing the club or is there another factor that caused the performance decline?
The main reason that golfers fall apart after having a lead is due to mental factors, more specifically a change in their approach to playing.
Many times, when a golfer has a lead, they change their game plan. Instead of maintaining the plan that helped them get a lead, they play it safe.
When you play it safe, you play every shot defensively trying not to make mistakes. The major distinction between playing aggressively and playing it safe is the nature of focus.
Playing it safe switches your focus to what might happen or the possible future outcome. When you worry about losing the lead, you try to play not to lose. Playing it safe causes anxiety to build up and you become over-focused on trying to avoid mistakes.
This mental approach causes your body to tighten up, making slight variations in your swing. The mental approach of playing it safe and the accompanying muscle tension cause you to fall into the very traps you were trying to avoid in the first place.
When you play aggressively, you are focused on the process and your plan to hit a good shot.
This present moment focus prevents that over-anxious feeling and helps you swing the club freely.
Dustin Johnson understands the importance of playing to win rather than playing it safe… In the third round at WGC-HSBC Champions event, Johnson opened up a six-stroke lead shooting 17-under 199, a 54-hole tournament record.
Johnson’s plan for the final round is to continue doing the same things that helped him secure a big lead heading into the fourth and final round.
JOHNSON: “Well, for me, I’m not going to change anything. I feel like I’ve got a good game plan for the golf course. You know, I’m going to play it just like I did today… But as far as, you know, tee shots and approaches to the green, I mean, I’m going to try to do exactly what I did today.”
To further highlight his aggressive approach to the final round , Johnson was asked which is more satisfying… winning by one stroke in a tight race or winning by a large margin to which he responded, “I would much rather win by a large margin, any day.”
The takeaway from Johnson is simple: If you want to win, then play to win. If you want to finish strong, play aggressively and don’t protect the lead.
The right approach makes all the difference in the world.
How to Play to Win:
Playing to win does not guarantee victory but puts you in position for victory…
Always remind yourself what helped you get the lead in the first place and be aggressive within reason.
When you start to feel anxious, that is your early warning sign that you are being pulled into the play-it-safe mode. Take a deep breath and tell yourself, “Play to win!”
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