On Sunday evening in Augusta, Georgia, Jordan Spieth put the final touch on an outstanding four-day performance to win the 2015 Masters Tournament. In doing so, he became the first golfer since 1976 to lead a Masters from start to finish. He tied the tournament scoring record of 18-under par, set by Tiger Woods in 1997. He set records for the lowest score after 36 holes and 54 holes, and for most birdies (28). Most impressively, at 21 years old, Spieth became the second youngest Masters champion in history. After going into the final round last year tied for the lead before losing to Bubba Watson by three strokes, Spieth was determined to see this year’s tournament through to the end. “It was something I watched slip away last year, and I had a chip on my shoulder,” he said on Sunday. This mentality helped Spieth remain composed under pressure throughout this year’s Masters. On Sunday’s par-five 13th hole, with a five-stroke lead, Spieth had the opportunity to play it safe by laying the ball up in front of a body of water, rather than hit a more difficult shot towards the hole. Instead, he chose the more difficult shot from 200 yards away, and landed it flawlessly onto the green, 14 feet from the pin. “He’s fiery…he’s got that killer instinct,” said Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller. According to three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for second, Spieth’s poise under pressure sets him apart from his competitors in a unique way: “…He has that ability to focus and see things clear when the pressure is on and perform at his best when the pressure is on.”
The poise and killer instinct Spieth showed over the weekend was especially impressive given his inexperience compared to many of the veterans he was competing against. Under these circumstances, it would have been easy for many young athletes to play it safe, rather than continuing to push themselves and take chances. However, having a killer instinct as an athlete means that that you choose to compete with assertiveness, rather than a fear of failure, and it requires the ability to maintain a high level of focus while you perform. Staying focused during competition allows you to consider all of your options in any given moment, and recognize when the time is appropriate to take risks, and it also helps you execute when you decide to take those risks. All of this starts with the habits you build during training. While it may be easier to allow your focus or concentration to drop off when you train, because there is less pressure to perform well, using refocusing cues or other strategies to maintain your focus when training will increase your ability to do the same during competition.
When it comes to competition, athletes who stay poised under pressure are able to stay focused on the process, rather than any future outcome. This means knowing exactly what you need to do to have success and staying in the present moment so that you can perform to the best of your abilities. Despite wanting to stay in the present moment throughout a performance, there will be times when your mind strays to the future and starts thinking about what it will feel like to win, or how important it is to not make a mistake or to avoid falling apart. When this happens – when you notice that your thoughts are carrying you toward the future, or keeping you in the past after a mistake – the use of a refocusing cue (e.g., “Stay present”, “Here and now”, or “In the moment”) can help redirect your mind to what you need to do to perform well. Having won his first major at such a young age, Spieth seems to have a long successful career ahead of him, and his poise and killer instinct under pressure will go a long way in helping him continue to perform at his best on golf’s biggest stages.
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