Rory McIlroy choked in front of the world on Sunday, losing a 4-stroke lead at The Masters and finished 10 strokes off (a 14 stroke swing). After playing superbly for the first three days of the tournament, the 21 year old had a complete melt down that resulted in a number of shots that were uncomfortable to even watch. Unfortunately, it was McIlroy’s mental toughness – not his golf game – that led to the terrible ending on Sunday (Mind of Steel)
Using a choking model to examine McIlroy’s breakdown, his anxiety had to be high going into Sundays final round – being young and inexperienced in the role of being leader at The Masters, it can be assumed that maintaining a positive, forward thinking mentality was a challenge for him. Instead of focusing on relevant thoughts (being prepared for each shot), it appeared as though he may have gotten caught up with the obvious pressure of having the world watch his every stroke (irrelevant thoughts).When athletes stop “playing to win” and begin “playing to avoid losing” the result is high anxiety, low confidence, and poor focus.
In McIlroy’s case, the fear and self-doubt he experienced resulted in high anxiety, usually manifested within the body through tight muscles, shallow breathing, increased perspiration, rapid heart rate, and butterflies in the stomach. When these symptoms appear, executing sport movements become very difficult — and this is especially difficult in a sport like golf that heavily relies on fine motor skills (otherwise known as precision movements).
Ironically, listening to the announcers at The Masters I had to laugh at their ongoing micro-analysis of what was happening — in reality, it was nothing more than McIlroy allowing the situation to control his thinking (unlike the previous three days where he controlled his thoughts and actions). No, it wasn’t the way his pinkie gripped the club (yes, this was actually mentioned), nor was it any of the other silly excuses provided throughout the day. Instead, it was simply an example of how nervous energy and self-confidence are inversely related – each operates in direct and opposite proportion to one another.
In McIlroy’s case, his nerves won on Sunday.Hopefully he will come back from this, but in order to do so he will definitely need to work with a sports psychologist or someone else capable of teaching him a few basic skills to help control nerves while maximizing human confidence and mental toughness. Clearly McIlroy has the skill set to play as a champion, but in golf (like most sports) the mental part of the game can make – or break – a championship run!Mental toughness is a crucial part of athletic success — make sure it is a part of your training regimen if you want to minimize choking and maximize sports performance.