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Adam Scott stood on the 15th tee Sunday afternoon at the British Open with a four-shot lead, but it’s Ernie Els’s name that’s engraved on the famous Claret Jug, not Scott’s. Only Scott knows the reasons behind his four consecutive bogeys, which allowed Els to snatch the trophy out of his hands. Did the pressure get to him? Was he distracted by the scoreboard? Did he change his strategy?
Whatever the reasons, it’s up to Scott to respond the right way. He can either learn from his mistakes like Rory McIlroy, who threw away the Masters last year, only to bounce back two months later to win the U.S. Open, or he can be like Jean Van de Velde, whose famous collapse at the 1999 Open has defined his career.
One of the most important things that players in Scott’s position can do is rely on the advice of a mental conditioning coach. These coaches help players manage distractions and cope with the mental challenges they face over 18 holes. At IMG Academy, mental coach Christian Smith works with the next generation of golfers to help them develop the mental resilience to handle the rigors of elite golf. Young golfers can learn from Scott's experience by following several principles designed to help them improve their mental game.
Have a Game Plan
Preparation is key. It is imperative you know your game plan before you step up to the first tee. When you encounter challenges and setbacks, it's easy to either change your game plan or simply forget it. Experienced golfers are able to stick to their game plan through adversity, or make strategic adjustments if necessary. This year’s Open winner, Ernie Els, drew on his experience to remain focused, despite starting the day six shots off the lead.
Stay in the Moment
Scott admitted to paying attention to the leaderboard. Some players like to know where they stand, while others allow themselves to get distracted by the performance of others. Stay in the moment by using cues that help you focus on the "here and now." Concentrate on the tempo, timing and rhythm of your swing. Although it’s especially difficult in golf, you must let go of the past, especially if your previous shot led to trouble. React to your mistakes instead of dwelling on them.
Develop a Pre-Shot Routine
It is easy to get distracted on a golf course. Cheers often explode from the galleries in the distance, cameras click, players pick up and drop shots, and the leaderboard changes constantly. More important, players can be their own biggest distraction by not controlling their self-talk, thoughts or state of being. Players have to develop a strong sense of self-awareness to recognize when they are distracted from their game. Once they recognize distractions, they need to find ways of "distracting the distractions."
The pre-shot routine is one of the best ways to remain focused on the task at hand. Incorporate thoughts, cue words and behaviors into a pre-shot routine, one that you have practiced extensively before stepping onto the course. Following a simple, familiar set of instructions helps players focus on task-relevant information.
Manage Self Talk
No one knows what Scott was saying to himself as his four-shot lead evaporated, but there is a good chance he was beating himself up. No one is more critical, more berating and more destructive to you than you. At the elite level, the caddie plays a vital role in keeping the player calm throughout the round. However, for most of the round, you’re the only person who can help yourself on the golf course. Therefore, your inner dialogue will shape your approach to adversity. You have to give yourself a break and understand that mistakes will happen. Focus your internal running commentary on helping yourself stay positive, bounce back, hang in there or put pressure on others.
Scott can use his experience at Royal Lytham and St. Annes to help himself bounce back and claim his first major. Aspiring golfers can also learn from that final round of golf, without ever having to endure the public pity bestowed on Scott.