What an incredible 4 days of golf! Or more to the point, what an incredible performance by the 2nd youngest Masters winner in history, Jordan Spieth.
After breaking numerous scoring records along the way, and becoming only the 5th player in history to lead for all 4 rounds, no one can argue that Jordan Spieth not only won the Green Jacket yesterday, he also won the mental game. At the age of 21, clearly Jordan’s Speith mental game is second to none. Nick Faldo said this week that he has “the mental strength of Jack Nicklaus”.
Jordan Spieth’s Mental Game
Jordan started to learn the mental game at a young age. He met his current coach, Cameron McCormick when he was just 12 years old. By that time Jordan was already a very good ball striker, so instead of focusing on his swing mechanics, Cameron set to work on building his confidence. And it’s paying off immensely. So what are the techniques they worked on?
An image reel of good shots
In an interview with Golf Digest, McCormick says that when Jordan came to him at age 12, he knew he had “something special”. A student of the mental game and how the brain works in elite athletes, he tells us that instead of trying to get Jordan in his own “bubble” on the course, he taught him to use the good shots of other players to his advantage. He taught him to watch and learn, not just from others, but from his own great shots.
Scientifically, this is called activating (or firing) the “mirror neurons” which enable us to copy or mimic a movement and it’s a far more powerful way to learn the right movement and hit great shots than you might think.
When you’re trying to improve your swing, you’re laying what’s called new “neural pathways”, that will (if done properly) become your “muscle memory” (an unconscious process). Triggering mirror neurons is like taking a shortcut to learning a new movement. But mirror neurons can also be fired during play by watching your playing partners or remembering your own great shots.
McCormick believed that watching other’s good shots would increase the chances of him doing the same, using the mirror neurons. He would also have him pay special attention to his own good shots, and put them on a virtual “image reel”, which he can recall in pressure situations. The idea being that remembering those shots on the course will help the motor neurons fire in the same way. As part of my mental coaching for golf process, I have students write down their 10 most memorable shots ready to re-create in their minds at any time.
Imagination and feel for golf
Nick Faldo commented during the TV coverage yesterday that one of the most impressive things about Jordan is his visualization of the shot and his commitment to that image.
He said, “it’s so precise, that he sees a tiny branch on a tree that the ball’s going to start at, how the trajectory will look and what shape it’s going to take, right until it comes to rest.”
I noticed throughout the tournament how fixated he was on his target, making several highly focused looks before pulling the trigger.
All this helps his body move in the right way to enable him to hit it there.
His caddie, Michael Greller confirmed this by saying: “He’s got just a vision of things, a feel…we talked about it this week, trusting your instincts.” (PGA Tour.com).
His course strategy gained him a lot of shots on the field
Jordan spieth was 55th in driving distance going into the Masters and some might have said, that on such a long course, it could have hampered his chances. But a good course strategy is a key part of Jordan Spieth’s mental game and more than makes up for not being an especially long hitter (Tom Watson at age 65 shooting -1 on day 1 shows this too). Spieth said all week that he was really focused on hitting the “right spots” on the fairways and greens, which would have included making sure he missed in the right spots too.
Henrik Stenson said during the tournament: “He’s playing strategically. He’s playing very mature. And, yeah, not making too many mistakes.”
His risks seemed to be very calculated, meaning he knew when to attack and when to play conservatively. This shot on the 13th yesterday shows this, when a miscalculation could have meant a halving of his 4 shot lead at the time.
His mind was fully in the present at all times
When you open up such a big lead in any tournament, let alone The Masters, you have the additional challenge of not getting carried away and looking into the future at what the success might feel like. This will only lead to a loss of focus and greater performance anxiety. For a 21 year old, this is even harder. But as with every other area of his game, Spieth was able to remain patient and focused on each individual shot.
Spieth’s caddie said after the round yesterday I kept reminding Jordan to “Stay present, that was our mantra”.
He’s got his game in perspective and has an attitude of gratitude
Jordan Spieth feels like a winner no matter how he plays, which helps take the pressure off. Having a sister with special needs, he realizes how lucky he is to tee it up with the best players in the world each week and never takes it for granted. He told ohio.com:
“It helps put things in perspective that I’m lucky to play on Tour and to compete with these guys, it’s been a dream come true. I definitely attribute a lot of that to her. It’s humbling to see her and her friends and the struggles they go through each day that we take for granted, where it seems easy for us and it’s not for them. At the same time, they are the happiest people in the world.”
Jordan Spieth embodied the perfect golfer this week, not just because of the clutch shots he hit under pressure, but because of the way he managed himself mentally from the moment he teed off on Thursday to his final putt on the 72nd hole.
Photo courtesy of Presidio of Monterey