Life is a mental game. Watch how I approach this.
We wake up in the morning. We think about how we want to approach the day proactively or whether we should just stay in bed and punt.
Sometimes we decide to play the game, embrace the day. We think about how to attack this sport of daily life so when the sun goes down we feel like we won.
A big part of this game is figuring out what we should prioritize. Is our goal to be the greatest at what we do or find some balance between being good at what we do, having a nice wife and kids, and friends?
Golf, like life, is a mental game – one of the most brutal the sports world has to offer.
Golfers play mind games with themselves. They tell themselves not to overthink their swings and yet they overthink their swings all the time. The game of golf itself beats them at this game. They try to play the game by feel but get caught up in the mechanics of their swings, how far their feet should be from the ball, what sort of club speed they want to have.
They know they need to play the game with more feel and touch and natural inclinations, but then get all twisted up thinking about whether that’s too simple a way of approaching their craft. So they play games with their own minds, overthinking and outthinking themselves.
Then there’s the mental game of golf between players. Some are cagey with each other.
They purposely don’t react to their own shots whether good or bad because they don’t want their opponents to know how it’s affecting them. They want their opponents to wonder about them, making a vexing ride struggling to figure out what’s on their minds. Any little mental edge one guy can get over another, they think and rightly so, could be the difference between a Major Championship and lifelong fame and finishing second and no one remembering them.
You’re going to see these mental gymnastics play out today big time during the final round of the PGA Championship when Brooks Koepka (-6) strolls around the Ocean Golf course in South Carolina with the inimitable yet puzzling Phil Mickelson, the leader by one at 7 under.
At just 31 years of age, Koepka has already won four majors including two PGAs. Mickelson’s captured five majors. If he wins today, he would be the oldest to win a Major at age 50 in the modern era and no doubt ascend higher on the list of all-time great golfers.
This situation, this opponent, this moment is – I get the sense — what Koepka lives for. On this Broadway-like stage, he’s always wanted to prove one he’s one of the greatest golfers of all time. And that he got there because of his mind.
At mind games, Koepka excels. It’s his unique selling point. He’s been telling everybody for years that when he gets into Majors he believes he’s the guy to beat. Few other golfers have ever said this kind of stuff.
It’s easier – yes he says easier — to win Majors than regular tournaments because a) he knows he’s better than half the field so they have no chance b) a bunch of guys will choke and so c) he only has to beat a few guys and he believes he can do that pretty routinely.
You know Phil’s well aware of Koepka spraying this trash talk around. He knows Koepka’s playing a mind game with the rest of the field. But there’s no denying the mental strategy has been working for Koepka.
Psyche out everybody else, speak arrogantly and with alarming confidence, and they’ll all cower and fall by the wayside in fear because they can’t beat a guy so certain of how great he is because they’re not.
Watch this play out for 18 holes today, Koepka playing world-class mind games with Phil. It won’t be obvious, but you can be sure it’ll be going on. Koepka won’t show his emotions no matter how he feels about how he’s playing.
He’ll be all about rocking a vibe and studly strut that he knows he’s going to beat Phil because he doesn’t choke and Phil has gagged on plenty of occasions in Major championships over the years.
Lurking around, staring ahead, Koepka will get inside Phil’s head. Phil will know this mind game is going on but won’t be able to stand the intensity of the mental pressure being applied by Koepka.
Phil will feel uncomfortable and thinking to himself “I can’t lose to this guy because then everyone will remember me as the guy who wasn’t mentally tough enough to win the mind game that Koepka was playing with me.”
Mentally for Phil, the stakes are even higher and will therefore exacerbate his mental torment. Phil knows that if he lets Koepka stares into Phil’s soul, in a figurative sense, and finds those weak spots of vulnerability and doubts about his own mental strength and falls to Koepka’s mental torture, golf historians and casual fans watching today will think to themselves that Koepka won the ultimate game of mental chess.
Compounding Phil’s woes, a victory would even the score for Major titles between Koepka and Phil with Phil being 19 years older and Koepka no doubt primed to win at least a few more Majors over those 19 years.
So this is a golfing match that will determine, in important ways, which one of these two guys goes down as better all-time in the history of the game. Major championships are the most important yardsticks to measure golf greatness.
Nothing less than two men’s professional legacies are at stake.
That’s a poopload of pressure. It’ll be a mind game like you’ve never seen before on a golf course, one cocky brash guy looking to intimidate another great player who has an unsettling number of psychological vulnerabilities.
So here’s our question: Who will be able to tolerate the mental duress and make enough good shots to snag this Major golf title?
To answer that we must look into their minds. I see in Koepka’s mind a craziness, a true belief that’s he’s a golf god destined to win whenever he decides he should. I see nothing but a true zealot about his own abilities. He sees himself as the current Chosen One in the game of golf, standing above the rest because he’s just so talented but beyond that because he can pull off a big-time performance when he needs to – largely by thinking he will.
Peering into Phil’s mind, I see something different. I notice doubts flying around his head, worries and thoughts of Koepka’s arrogance stuck there forever. I detect a longing for more confidence, and desire to be as cocksure as Koepka but an honest admission that he just does not feel that way about himself.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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