By Mark Harman, USGTF Director of Education
The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had what he called a “Pyramid of Success.” At the very top of the pyramid was “competitive greatness.” Can there be such a pyramid in golf? Certainly, but let’s attack it in a slightly different direction, as some of the building blocks in Wooden’s pyramid involve aspects of team play that aren’t relevant to golf. So let’s call it the “Pyramid of Pressure,” and here are its elements, from lowest to highest pressure: 1) Practice shot, 2) casual round, 3) competition, 4) contend, 5) win.
A practice shot on the range has virtually no pressure at all, but this is an ideal time to also practice being under pressure. Set a goal for yourself or your student (such as hitting five drives between two landmarks out on the range), and if you succeed, reward yourself with a refreshment. If you fail, you can either try again or “punish” yourself by, for example, handing a stranger a $5 bill.
A casual round might have a little pressure from the elements of the course, but again, this is an excellent time to practice being under pressure. A target number of fairways and greens hit can provide some pressure, for example.
The jump to competition is perhaps the biggest leap in the pyramid. The key here is proper preparation, both physically and mentally, and this preparation should have been executed during the practice shot and casual round phases.
Contending for the win is another big jump, and here, the player really needs to faithfully stick to the pre-shot routine and stay in the present. Thinking back to past shots or forward to possible outcomes is a sure way to derail the train.
Finally, at the top of the pyramid we have winning. This is the culmination of all the elements that came before. But the player needs to be careful to not try too hard to win. Maintaining oneself in the present and, as the old cliche goes, “playing one shot at a time” give the best chance to hold the trophy at the end of the competition.