The stage was set on Sunday for Phil Mickelson to walk away with his fourth green jacket by the way he played himself into the final pairing on Sunday. Many, including golf experts, picked him as the overwhelming favorite to win the Masters on Sunday at the Augusta National Golf Club.
One of the things people love about sports, especially a major sporting event, is that it often does not play out according to the script perpetuated by experts. Perhaps that is one of the reason why people enjoy watching major sporting events to see whether the unexpected becomes the champion and then have fun seeing the smug experts eat crow.
The other aspect about sports that people enjoy is the decisions that the players have to make in real time, live on TV, and then immediately see the consequence of the decision they make.. This is something people don’t see in any other profession. There is no hiding from the decisions made in sports; hence, there is lot we can learn about high stakes decision making.
There were quite a few lessons (highlighted below) one could have learned from watching the Masters, but the most important lesson that I took away from the Masters is that you have to stick with your game plan when you are pursuing a major endeavour, whether at work or in your personal life. You have to remain focused on what you have to do and not start focusing on what your competitors are doing or get distracted from your goals and objectives. Though it sounds easy, but even sports professional often find it difficult to follow sticking to the game plan.
To use the golf metaphor, the ball is not going to move unless you make it move the way you want it to move and when.. You are the one who controls the ball. The player who wins a grueling major like the Masters does not only have to possess outstanding talent and make critical shots, but also display a mental toughness that allows him to remain focused with his game plan under tremendous pressure.
Oosthuizen played well the rest of the way and the only way he was going to lose the tournament was if someone played “lights out” golf.
After Oosthuizen made the double eagle, surprisingly, Mickelson deviated from his purported game plan quite early in the round and attempted a shot on a long par 3 fourth hole that was fraught with risk. Based on the pin placement he knew that the hole was not likely to give too many birdies. Yet, he still made a decision to hit a tee shot on the left side of the pin. He pushed it far to the left and hit the railing of the stands with the ball coming to rest in a thick foliage.
Now he had two options to ponder: Take a one-stroke penalty and hit the third shot again from the tee which, at worse, would give him a double bogey, or hit the ball out of the foliage. The ball was in such a spot that he could not make his natural left-handed swing, but attempt to wedge it out right handed with a left-handed club. This is a shot that most pros hardly ever practice.
He made a decision to hit the ball from where it lay, and hit an awkward shot that barely moved from its original spot and came very close to hitting his foot which would have resulted in a two-stroke penalty. He then hit an errant shot (again right-handed) out of the foliage that scooted out and came to a stop on a tight dirt lie which had been trampled down by fans. He hit the next shot into the bunker. When it all ended, he had carded a triple bogey, and pretty much played himself out of the tournament barring any major collapse from his close competitors..
Mickelson played well the rest of the way, but the putts were not falling and finished the tournament two strokes behind the leaders. It really was his tournament to win; however, two costly back to back decision making mistakes doomed his chances of wearing the fourth green jacket.
Mickelson is a great player, but, here is a lesson, even great players are susceptible to losing their focus. Mickelson did not approach the hole the way Ben Hogan described his approach on the 10th hole at Augusta based on the pin placement. Mickelson was hitting a long iron shot so he knew that he was sacrificing accuracy for distance due the the length (220 yards) of the hole from the tee. Based on the pin placement, Ben Hogan would probably have hit it short of the green and used his chipping to get it close to the hole and escape with a par or, at worse, a bogey. We will never know whether Mickelson even considered that option, but all we can do is learn from it in case we are ever faced with a similar decision making situation in our endeavours.
Also, great player is never completely immune from losing focus from distractions around him, whether it be from the roar of the crowds, changing leaderboard, or doubt about his game plan. Many times staying focused throughout an entire round and the tournament is what separates a champion from a professional.
Distractions that arise when you are pursuing an endeavor are like those spirits that emerged from the Ark at the ending of the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” They are tempting and beautiful, but if you lose your mental toughness and even take a slight glance at the spirits, they can quickly morph into demonic creatures and destroy your focus and your chance of a victory.
In the playoff at the 10th hole, Watson made a shot that you have to make to win against a tough opponent. He pulled his drive to the right on the 10th hole deep into the trees resting on pine straw. Here he made the most important decision based on where his ball was positioned and his situation in the playoffs and his confidence level on executing a difficult shot that he had been practicing all his life. He had to hit a shot that would have to hook some 40 yards without hitting any branches and land on the green. This was a high risk high reward shot. If he got it anywhere close to the green, it would be considered a fantastic shot. He hooked it so well that the ball landed on the green and curled to within 15 feet left of the pin. It may have been one of the greatest clutch shot hit at the Masters.
- Stick to your game plan.
- Don’t take unnecessary risks early in the game.
- Always consider the worst case scenario and its implications before making a decision.
- Don’t count on your opponents to make mistakes.
- At the end, to win, you may have to resort to a high risk/high reward option.
You may not always win with your game plan and be disappointed, but at least you can feel good that you did not beat yourself by deviating from your game plan. At the highest level, the difference between winning and losing often has little to do with the talent gap that may exist, but developing a solid game plan and sticking to it and decisions that are consistent with the game plan.