Tag: Ryder Cup

Last week, Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota was home to the 41st Ryder Cup Championship. This unique three day golf event only takes place every two years. It is one of the most intense, competitive, and exciting tournaments that these players will ever experience because even the most competitive rivals turn into the greatest of allies. This tournament is all about pride, teamwork, and being aggressive on the golf course. Some of the best golf in the world took place right in Chaska, Minnesota over the past week. Stakes were high because these competitors were no longer just playing for themselves, but also their nation. With the tournament being completed, we can reflect on the intense match between Team USA and Team Europe this year.

The first two days of the tournament were unique in their format. Instead of each competitor going out and playing their own ball, they participated in alternate shot and best ball. This turned one of the most individual sports into a team sport with so much history behind it. The third and final day of the Ryder Cup consisted of singles match play, which also had its own strategies.

The Ryder Cup created a whole new atmosphere on the golf course. With the course in pristine condition and the players in match play mode, anything could have happened. Team USA’s Phil Mickelson stated in an after round interview, “Certainly I felt more pressure heading into today’s [first round] matches. Given the build-up over the last couple years, the criticism, the comments, what have you, the pressure was certainly as great, or greater, than I’ve ever felt.” Rory Mcllroy of Team Europe even said that the playing conditions were “pretty hostile” due to how much pressure was on the line to perform well, not only from his teammates, but also the captains and fans.

The team captains also had a very important role in this tournament as they made the game plans and strategically paired the members of their team. Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth of Team USA, longtime friends and fierce competitors on Tour, were paired together on the first day of the Ryder Cup. During an interview with Reed, he stated, “We grew up playing golf together, so I already know what to expect. I know his game and he knows mine. I know how to push his buttons to get him going and vice versa. It is just a pairing that seems to work.”

Figuring out which players were going to be most compatible, game- and personality-wise, was a big factor when making the game plan for the Ryder Cup. This year, Team USA was fortunate to have Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Steve Stricker, and Tom Lehman making all the game time decisions. Reed also stated during an after round interview, “We had a great game plan coming in, we stuck with it. Just hit a lot of greens. In alternate shot you have to do that, give yourself opportunities.”

Sometimes it is as simple as that: sticking to a game plan. Taking the proper measures to prepare yourself for whatever game time situation you are in can be the difference between winning and losing. A number of players during the first round stepped away from their game plan once they saw the leaderboard. When players start cracking under the pressure, they try to get more aggressive with their swing and with their targets, even if the risk outweighs the reward. Some players had to play two matches a day; that’s a long day on the golf course. They had to learn to stay in the moment, stay focused, and remain calm, even if their shots weren’t going as planned.

With Team USA coming out victorious, it just goes to show how cool, calm, and collected they were over the course of the three days. They stuck to the game plan and executed the proper number of shots to ultimately take home the 41st Ryder Cup Championship. This mentality can be used in any sport at any level. For high school athletes, the pressure of the Ryder Cup could be compared to a sectional game that could advance them to state. The level of pressure the athlete may feel is much higher than normal because there is more on the line. If an athlete makes a game plan to account for setbacks and is able to adhere to adversity, they can overcome that pressure and come out successfully. This mentality of staying in the moment and sticking to a plan may also be useful when trying to ace an interview or when you are taking a really hard test. If you prepare ahead of time and do everything in your power to stay focused in the present moment, chances are you will like the outcome.


You think you know what it’s like and you think you’ve played under pressure, but you haven’t.”

These were the recent words of professional golfer Rory McIlroy, who just won the PGA Tour Championship last week and has his sights set on the Ryder Cup this week. Great champions and high level athletes seem to have a very unique perspective and relationship with this emotional-biochemical-physical-body-reaction thing we call pressure. It’s the mindset approach and optimization that allows these champions to be aware and respond effectively that makes all the difference in their performance.

Pressure is very real and exists for all of us. It stems from thousands of years of evolution of our brains seeking to protect us; essentially, from failure. As an Olympian, not throwing a javelin far enough may result in a silver or bronze medal; as a caveman, it likely resulted in a lost meal, injury or even death. Unfortunately, our brains haven’t quite caught up to that evolutionary safeguard, which today, can significantly impact how we perform in high-pressure situations (likely not involving saber-toothed tigers).

As Dr. Justin Anderson (Sport Psychologist and Founder of Premier Sport Psychology) puts it, “Pressure just is. It’s there. I don’t define it as good or bad. If you’re playing in a pressure situation, it just means that it matters and that you’ve likely done something pretty great to get there. At the end of the day, pressure is just context; the task remains the same.

Think about it this way: If we put a board on the ground and asked you to walk across it, would you be able to do so without touching the ground or falling? You likely very well could. Now if we were to raise the board 5 feet off the ground and ask you to walk across, would you? You might be more hesitant. You likely could do it, but at a risk of falling. What if we raised it 10 or 15 more feet off the ground? Would you walk across the board then? At that point, you probably wouldn’t dare walk across – rightfully citing injury or fear. But why not step up to the challenge when the bar has been raised? The board is the same width as it was before when it was sitting on the ground – it’s simply the context that is different. The difference is the pressure you feel to perform, and to perform well (i.e., without making a mistake).

We can anticipate pressure and we know that it will be there at the Ryder Cup. What we see in this particular setting that is unique for many golfers is that golf, which is traditionally an individual sport, will now become a team sport. In addition to the pressure they likely already feel, the golfers will now feel a team aspect: a pressure to perform well and a responsibility to the team. What they do now matters not just for them, but for others, too.

The key for any athlete in dealing with pressure is really pretty simple, and might even seem counter-intuitive. The key is not to try to make pressure work for or against you in that moment. If you’re focusing on what to do with the pressure, then you’re distracting yourself from the task at hand and instead putting your attention on the pressure. Instead, think about what your job is in that moment, for example; first driving (finding a target on the fairway and getting the ball there) and then putting (rolling the ball on a specific line to fall in the dead center of the cup). That’s it. Think, “Regardless of how I feel, regardless of the pressure, regardless of the context, I want to put the ball on that line.”

And that’s where the mindset training comes into play. At Premier Sport Psychology, we work with countless professional golfers on how to sharpen their ability to focus on simply the task at hand. When they do that, the rest begins to fall away – leaving only a single task for them to accomplish and pressure left to deal with itself – or even better, their opponents. Those who work to optimize their mindset and who know there will always be pressure are the ones who not only compete, but also succeed at high levels.