Editor’s note: In January, Hawaii-based mental game and performance coach and author Cary Valentine interviewed several Tour players at the Sony Open — major winners Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink, Champions Tour standout Kenny Perry and PGA Tour veteran Anirban Lahiri — about how they prepare mentally and spiritually for competition and keep focused on peak golf performance, between the ropes and off the course as well. Here’s what he found.
Stewart, where you were in contention to win numerous tournaments in 2018, did you make changes that caused you to step up your game?
Cink: During the first half of the year, I was kind of languishing around and not getting much out of my work — just generally uncommitted even though I didn’t know it at the time, ’cause when you’re in it, you don’t always realize it.
Then I went to the Memorial, where I’ve played pretty much every year; it’s one of my favorites. I’ve got some pretty good performances there, I always felt at home playing there, and I played terrible — that was an eye-opener for me.
After that tournament, I missed qualifying for the U.S. Open, so I was stuck there for two days with nothing to do.
I decided to do a little mirror time, so to speak — you know, looking in the mirror and figuring out what are you doing, get committed. I went back and looked through some of my notes from the past year and a half, that I keep as a log — swing thoughts, spiritual things, confidence boosters, routine related items, anything. I just jot little notes down and I tried to do that after every round.
I went back in and rediscovered a few thoughts and a few commitment items that translated into immediate, sharper focus, better decision making.
My caddy, Taylor, and I call it “cleaner golf.” I like to separate the decision making and the execution, and felt like I was quite gray before, then suddenly things shifted to black and white. It just translates into better golf. I struggle being a little older now. The focus part of it is a little bit harder to grasp onto than when I was young.
It just seems like a few shots here and there, where I was a little bit asleep — I don’t catch a little something that I would have caught 10 years ago, and I don’t reboot. That’s a big key in golf.
Golf is one of the only sports that let you re-create the present. Something enters your mind that you don’t like, it gets you distracted and you have a choice to make — you either need to start over and get clear or you can go ahead and hit it anyway. I call those “anyway shots,” and they are usually quite destructive.
Either you’ll get an immediate bad result or you get a good result, and it lulls you into thinking that you can continue those “anyway shots” until you do get disruptive results. For me, that’s kind of like the sweet spot of focus, being able to recognize those moments where I need to probably start over and yet I sometimes don’t.
I’m now really diligent after a round. I’m looking back and trying to do my best in those moments, because that’s what I’ve identified as being the most destructive as far as results.”
How do golfers deal with nerves and anxiety on the golf course?