Staying Focused With a Lead in Golf
Have you ever been leading by a comfortable margin heading towards the last few holes, you started to think ahead about the consequences of winning, and your lead disappeared by the 18th hole?
Maybe you have played a tournament where you had a 4-stroke lead going in to the final round and blew the lead and had to go to a playoff. Would that be heart breaking?
What happens to your game when you’re leading at the end of a round?
Did you lose the ability to swing the club or does your mind begin to play tricks with you? Most of the time, your mindset changes…
The big reason golfers lose their lead is due to a faulty mental game, more specifically a change in their mental approach to playing the game and each hole.
Many times, when a golfer has a lead, they change their mental game and approach. Golfers tell me all the time that they slam on the breaks, protect their lead, and focus on not making mistakes.
When you play it safe coming down the stretch, you try not to make mistakes. When you try to avoid mistakes, you can thinking about bogeys and doubles instead of making birdies.
Most of the time, this all starts with thinking too far ahead about your score or winning the tournament. When you worry about losing the lead, you tighten up and steer or guide the ball away from trouble. Playing it safe causes anxiety to build up and you try to get it in the house.
This mental approach causes your body to tighten up, making slight variations in your swing. The mental approach of playing it safe and the accompanying muscle tension cause you to fall into the very traps you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Dustin Johnson understands the importance of the mind when playing well and leading… In the third round at WGC-HSBC Champions event, Johnson opened up a six-stroke lead shooting 17-under 199, a 54-hole tournament record.
Johnson’s plan for the final round is to continue doing the same things that helped him secure a big lead heading into the fourth and final round.
“Well, for me, I’m not going to change anything. I feel like I’ve got a good game plan for the golf course. You know, I’m going to play it just like I did today… But as far as, you know, tee shots and approaches to the green, I mean, I’m going to try to do exactly what I did today,” said Johnson.
To further highlight his aggressive approach to the final round , Johnson was asked which is more satisfying… winning by one stroke in a tight race or winning by a large margin to which he responded, “I would much rather win by a large margin, any day.”
Thus, if you want to win, then play to win. If you want to finish strong, play aggressively and don’t protect the lead. The more aggressive your play, the freer your swing.
As Bob Rotella would say: pick a conservative target and swing aggressively!
How to Play With a Lead
Keep in mind what helped you get the lead in the first place when you find yourself in the lead–be aggressive within reason. You don’t have to fire at every pin or cut every dogleg, but you do want to swing aggressively as smart targets.
And keep your mind in the moment. Refocus when you get ahead of yourself or begin to focus on not making bogeys.
Instead of trying to just hang on to your lead, focus on increasing your lead one birdie at a time. Think birdie on every tee box instead of how not to make bogey.