Learning to Have the Mindset to Win
I don’t know how many of you have watched Tiger Woods play in a tournament either on television or live, but Woods, like many great champions, has great intensity and focus.
The only thing he is worried about is how he will get the golf ball in the hole in as few strokes possible.
He doesn’t worry about his competition and more importantly, he does not feel bad if one of his competitors screws up or gets a bad break. He does not necessarily have the best swing on tour; however, he has the best mental mindset that makes him the number one player in the world.
As a professional golfer, I have struggled with what it means to be competitive and also practice sportsmanship. Every week I see the same group of girls, some of whom I’m very close with.
While we warm up for the day many of us say, “Good luck today,” or “Play well.” We even help each other on the range or putting green if one of us is struggling a bit. While there is a friendly nature in the atmosphere, there is also a common goal that all of us are reaching towards, which is to win.
Back in the day, when I first started out professionally I felt bad for my fellow competitors. If someone got a bad break on the golf course or played poorly, I felt genuine sadness and disappointment for that person. It got to the point where I stopped focusing on what I needed to do win and instead worried about the games of my competitors. Instead of thinking of how I was going to play my best, I got distracted.
Part of me felt like if I didn’t care or didn’t feel bad for my competition that I was a poor sportsman. In reality though, if I dug down deep, I truly didn’t care if someone played bad or got unlucky. I play golf to win tournaments, not feel bad for people.
And really, when I tell someone “Play well,” I am thinking, “Play well, just don’t play better than me.” I never wish for someone to hit a bad shot or hope they play poorly; I just want to beat them, whether it’s on their worst or best day.
Not until recently did I begin to understand the tenants of what it means to be a true competitor. At one of my last events it began to rain towards the end of my round and there were many players left on the course with several holes to play. One of the girls in my group said, “I feel bad for the girls that have a lot of holes left to play in this.” I looked at her and said, “I don’t. It sucks for them, but that’s the nature of this game.”
With any sport or competitive job, everyone will get a bad a break. I will get an unlucky bounce or perhaps a bad ruling. The competitors in my group most likely won’t care and won’t even think twice about it. This is part of where the true nature of competition comes in.
In a world of competition, we have to do whatever it takes to reach our goals. Of course, there is a wrong and right way to go about things. I don’t step on my competition’s ball or kick it in a hazard. I don’t sneeze during their backswings or yell “You suck!” while they putt. I focus on what I need to do and don’t worry about the rest. If someone makes a putt, good for them. Now I need to make mine. If they miss their putt and I make mine, even better for me.
Just recently, at the World Golf Championship, Tiger Woods received a 45 minute putting lesson from his friend and fellow competitor, Steve Stricker. Woods went on to win the tournament, while Stricker finished second. There now is an ongoing joke that Stricker wishes he hadn’t have given Tiger a lesson. Truth is, Stricker was probably just as happy to help his friend as he was upset to lose to him.
Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers and toughest competitors in history said, “I play golf with friends, sometimes, but there are never friendly games.”
In sports, this philosophy holds very true. After the round is over though, we’ll grab a beer at the 19th hole, and perhaps reminisce about our good shots and bad shots. But then the next day, we’ll get back to the grind and want to beat each other all over again.