Pressure Cooker


The U.S. Open is nearly upon us. Weve all been there. Okay, maybe you havent been there in person, but you have been there.
If youve ever played a once-in-a-lifetime event, a penalizing golf course, a treacherous hole, or a shot that makes you think twice before you pull the trigger, then you've been THERE ' that place that you go when your game is taken to the limit ' physically, strategically, and mentally.
You can look for the game's top players to go THERE on June 18-21 when they compete in the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park on Long Island. The selection of the demanding 7,426-yard Black Course is the USGA's way of meeting its course setup philosophy which states, We intend that the U.S. Open prove the most rigorous examination of golfers. Said Tiger Woods of the USGA's probable setup of Bethpage Black: If [the course] was set up the way we played the Open every day, I dont think anybody would play golf anymore. Its brutal the way we play it.
Fortunately for Woods, he is accustomed to brutality, as demonstrated by his unforgettable U.S. Open victory last year at Torrey Pines. Playing on only one good leg, he clawed his way into a Monday playoff and defeated the affable and determined Rocco Mediate in 19 holes.
Woods also won the U.S. Open the other time it was played at Bethpage Black, in 2002. He was the only player to finish under par.
Woods has demonstrated time and again that when he goes THERE, he knows how to manage his mind and his game. As you watch Tiger and his fellow Tour players confront the challenges of this years U.S. Open, take note of the following mental strategies that they rely on under adversity.
The next time that U.S. Open-like conditions take you THERE, then . . .
Lower your expectations Champions recognize that under tough conditions, bad things happen ' not necessarily because they did something bad, but because the conditions skew the risk-reward continuum to the side of risk. Instead of striving to shoot your best-ever round or make that highly-desired birdie, lower the bar. Add a few strokes to your expected score. At the U.S. Open, par is a good score. Tour players regularly pitch out from a bad lie in the rough, wedge it onto the green, and try to make a 15-footer for par. When they make bogey, champions remind themselves that the rest of the field is playing the same course under the same conditions. Over time, the tough holes, the bad breaks, and the higher scores will even out. Usually.
Take what the course gives you For many amateurs, playing safe on the golf course is the choice of wimps, and is too often displaced by the more popular mindset of no guts, no glory. Of course, this choice more often results in higher scores. As you watch the Open this year, keep tabs on how often the worlds best players opt for the following wimpy, risk-free alternatives:
  • Lay up on a par 5;
  • Wedge it back into the fairway out of the deep rough;
  • Hit 3-wood or iron instead of driver;
  • Aim their approach shot at the center of the green rather than at the pin;
  • Position themselves for a 10-foot putt below the hole rather than a 4-footer from above the hole

    These are the strategies of the wise ' let them be yours the next time you find yourself THERE!
    Let it go ' no excuses! Following every round of last years U.S. Open, Tiger was asked in some fashion or another, Hows the knee? His response never changed ' As I said earlier, all athletes deal with injuries and that's just part of playing sports.
    In a situation more familiar to the weekend warrior at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Woods made a triple-bogey 7 on the third hole. During the same third round, he made five birdies to post a 71, the second best round for the day. Would you have kept your composure after making such a big number so early in the round? Again, Tiger demonstrated his ability to let go of a poor result and move forward with no excuses. Tigers advice: You know, you keep playing, whatever it is. You just keep going forward. As you might recall, Tiger went on to win that year by a ridiculous 15 shots.

    As you watch the worlds top players struggle to recover from a wide range of difficult conditions in this years U.S. Open, youll realize that you too have been THERE! You will see the decisions champions make when they have lowered their expectations, when they take what the course gives them, and they let go of poor outcomes and play the game with no excuses. Enjoy, learn, and apply these strategies the next time you are THERE.
    Rick Jensen, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized sport psychologist and author of Drive to the Top: 5 Timeless Business Lessons Learned from Golfs Greatest Champions. Dr. Jensens clients include more than 50 touring pros on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours. For additional information, go to