Over the years, I've heard players say they would rather come from behind to win a tournament, while others say they would prefer as many shots in the clear as possible. Either way, the key is that you learn to look past the trophy, the check, the result and the win and focus only on hitting the shot in front of you to the best of your ability. That is much easier said than done.
We often watch golf on Sunday to see players charge up the leaderboard only to stumble coming in. We also see players go to sleep on the lead only to look like completely different players the next day. What changes? Usually, it's their mindsets. Here are some scenarios and strategies for you to thing about as you prepare for your next event.
Scenario: First Round Lead
The main thing to understand in this case is, you're playing good golf. Nothing needs to change. There doesn't need to be more aggressiveness or protection of the lead. Your next round isn't about proving your worthy of the lead. Human nature leads you down all of these paths, but as an athlete who seeks excellence, your goal is to develop your own human nature that allows you to be your best.
Your job in round two is to continue to follow your game plan from the minute you get up in the morning until you hole out on 18th hole of the second round. It might be nice for you to jot down a few notes in your golf journal following your first round. They could include how you warmed up, how you visualized, how the target appeared to you, your mindset, your game plan or your approach to the day, the round, the shots and the putts. This is your journal, so anything you jot down will be for your use in the future to help you learn, adjust and continue to put up good numbers. Figuring out what helps you achieve success is a big part of becoming a consistent performer.
The trick here isn't to copy your success, but to create it again. Were you loose and happy as you played? It will be tough to create a loose and happy mindset if you wake up crabby or nervous, but you can then make adjustments to your warm up or game plan that allow you to leave your mood or nerves behind. First, you have to be open to changes. Many golfers feel there is one way to be successful for them and they get so caught up in doing the same things daily that they lose track of why they are even doing them. Success isn't reliant upon habit or dogma, it is reliant upon focus, learning, adjusting, and playing to your strengths. You might find ways to tap into those qualities that work well for you when you are coming into a tournament, but that don't help you in the final round. The trick isn't to do the same thing, but to do what works. The only way to figure out what works is to question your habits on tough days and be open to making small adjustments that alter your approach, your mood, your mindset and your focus.
Scenario: Final Round Lead
There is still a lot of golf to be played. So much can happen in 18 holes. You can birdie the first three holes in the final round and relax a little and everything unravels. Or, you can have a shaky start, make some mistakes and settle into a good rhythm as you continue to play. You will have a million thoughts and emotions playing with you as you play the round. The trick in the final round is your preparation. You have to tell yourself prior to the round that it will take a focused and tough mindset for as long as it takes to get the job done. That's right, prepare for a playoff before you even start the final round.
Prepare by choosing the mindset and focus you will have prior to the round. If you play your best by visualizing well, then decide you won't step into any shot until you see it clearly. If you play your best by choosing a target a few inches in front of your ball, make that target vivid and keep track of it through your pre-shot routine. If you play best by committing completely to your plan, then keep track of your commitment score and work to have a high number of tallies at the end of the day. Give yourself a tally mark whenever you hit a shot with full commitment and don't base the tally on the result of the shot. The common theme for all of these things is, you are deeply into the process of hitting shots and not into the result, the score or the final outcome. Learning to compete for a win means being your best self more than it means beating your opponent.
If you have the notion that you are better coming from behind, you need to figure out how to play golf in the moment and not be afraid of taking a lead into the round. To give up shots to the field based on your comfort level means you need to adjust your comfort level to embrace any and all situations, but especially those that put you in the lead!