The Mental Game of Major Championship Golf

This past weekend we watched in awe as 50 year old Phil Mickelson captured his 6th Major Championship, and first in almost 8 years. Throughout the weekend Phil spoke to the media about his need to stay “present” and not allow his mind to wonder. In his words, his game was there (and always has been), it’s just been the mental focus that has eluded him of late.

It’s not the first time a champion golfer has used his mind to dominate a Major golf tournament. In fact, Louis Oosthuizen, a contender from this weekend had a very famous victory where he harnessed the power of his mind to deliver.

In 2010, one of the greatest displays of golf under pressure the world has ever seen was on display. A talented young golfer was destroying the field at the Open Championship and it wasn’t Tiger, Phil or Rory, but an unknown South African named Louis Oosthuizen.

Oosthuizen played 3 terrific rounds and held a 4-shot lead entering the final round. At golf majors, almost every time, the inexperienced leader cracks under the pressure and succumbs to the charging superstar farther down the leaderboard.

So how did Oosthuizen accomplish the rare task of holding off the field on Sunday to win by one of the largest margins in tournament history? Mindfulness and a little red dot.

Oosthuizen had just begun working with a sport psychologist because he felt that in crucial moments, negative thoughts were creeping into his mind, preventing him from pulling off winning shots. His mental coach had Louis draw a little red dot in sharpie on his glove at the base of his thumb. Then he instructed Oosthuizen to focus his complete attention on the little red dot – nothing else mattered – all attention was on the dot.

Oosthuizen used this technique to clear his mind of all negative thoughts and maintain laser-like focus on the last round of the tournament. He won by 7 shots simply by practicing mindfulness amongst the chaos of one of golf’s biggest tournaments. Oosthuizen went from an unknown entity to a  famous champion who has since earned more than $20M USD in tournament earnings.

Often at the highest levels, the skill of the competitors cancel each other out. The difference between winners and “also rans” usually comes down to their ability to manage themselves between the ears.

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