Sometimes, protecting happens in a big picture. You're leading a tournament, you're on track to make All American, you're high on the money list or you're putting your game out there for coaches to evaluate. The reality is, you have nothing to protect. Imagine a horse race at the midpoint. They've run one lap of the circuit and still have a lap to run. Could the horse in the lead protect his advantage? No, he needs to run and run hard. In fact, chasers often have more motivation than front-runners, so the odds are good he will be run down by the finish line. Just like the lead horse, you have nothing to protect. Any competition that isn't finished needs to be played out and with total effort. Golf is no different.
The minute your mind wanders to what you want, you've given power to what might be instead of what is. The most important thing in golf is the shot at hand, whether it is your first drive on the first hole or the final putt on the 72nd hole. They are both worth one and both worthy of your full attention. In order to protect what you have, you need to focus on your past and your hopes. Neither is worth your time on the course.
If you need protection, that probably means you're afraid of something. To protect means to defend or secure. There is no defense in golf, only offense. That means that you're either working to score or you aren't. If you go into a protection mode, you will quit working to score. You play safe and start guiding your shots. Before you know it, you've lost track of the target and instead you're playing away from trouble. You begin to make your goals based on what you don't want instead of what you do want. You're protecting something you don't actually possess.
Imagine the horse race once again. If the horse in the lead decides to protect the lead, he will start to expend energy working to keep other horses from passing him instead of running his race. That energy could have gone to running, but instead it's going to the stress of protecting his position. Your golf is much the same. Ask yourself this; what do you give your energy to when you're playing well? Can that be protected? When you are in the zone and things are flowing for you, it is simply you in the moment, doing what you've trained to do and letting it happen. That can't be protected. It is a matter of being in the moment and trusting yourself and your preparation.
The next time you feel like you want to protect your score, your standing or your game, remember, there is nothing to protect. Competitions are ongoing and if you are mid-race, you need to keep running.