Koepka coming up clutch under pressure
October 24, 2018
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Inside the PGA TOUR
Brooks Koepka's journey to becoming Player of the Year
The most striking part of Brooks Koepka’s win at THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES last week was his ability to recognize the importance of the moments down the stretch and execute under that pressure.
Gary Woodland threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at Koepka, but he stepped up and swatted away each challenge like he was a script writer in Hollywood with a flair for the dramatic.
Woodland made a long putt across the length of a green. Koepka answered immediately.
Woodland just miscued slightly. Koepka turned a missed green into a chip in.
It was the greatest takeaway from his win at the PGA Championship also — how seemingly effortlessly he absorbed the pressure of a Tiger Woods Sunday charge.
And not just any charge, but one at the time that saw virtually the entire world tune it to witness what they hoped to be an ultimate comeback story.
No disrespect to Brooks, but of the three men in contention at Bellerive he may have been the least supported that day.
It wasn’t because he didn’t deserve it, or because he isn’t a phenomenal player. Just because he’d recently won the U.S. Open, and the fairytale of either a Woods comeback win or an Adam Scott resurgence the week he had lost good friend Jarrod Lyle to cancer may have played better in those Hollywood scripts mentioned above.
There is no doubt Koepka felt the groundswell of support shifting from him that day. Yet — he was able to absorb it all and fire the killer blows under the gun. His long-iron into the lengthy par-3 16th was as good as it gets under the pump.
And so the question is — how does one manage to do this? How can you find a way not to let a flood of endorphins and increased heart rate affect you? How can you block out negative consequences from your thoughts?
“There's always a moment where you feel, if I make this or if I do this, this is going to cap it and you're going to win,” PGA TOUR Player of the Year Koepka said. “Those are when it's fun, like I enjoy that. I look forward to that shot. I look forward to that feeling of, ‘Hey, I've got the opportunity to really close it out here and that's what I want to do.’”
That is the difference between a really good player and an elite one.
Koepka wants the moment. He craves it. It’s like the quarterback who wants to run the two-minute drill to win a game. Or the soccer player who wants the penalty kick to be the deciding one. The pitcher who wants to come out with the bases loaded and the World Series on the line.
“Maybe I give it a little more attention or whatever it might be,” Koepka said. “But I just know that that's going to be a momentum shift in my favor if I can get it to go.
“To me, it kind of feels like life or death. Like, okay, this is what I have got to do if I want to win a golf tournament. If you're not going to embrace it and enjoy it, enjoy that moment, then I don't think you're ever going to capitalize on those moments.”
Neale Smith, a former PGA TOUR player now sports psychologist, advises his clients to find the sweet spot of these moments.
“Every golf psychologist will tell the client to focus on one shot at a time but we also know there are certain shots that are key shots in a round and they have a higher psychological weight on them,” Smith said. “It is in these moments where an ability to really be intense with focus, without tightening up, is a real art form.
"Some guys get tense. Others don’t get the focus up high enough. The superstars on the PGA TOUR are the ones with the physical and mental skills who will work hard at both.”
Smith said when a player feels the juices flowing in a clutch moment they need to embrace it. It is something they’ve deserved. It is in this mental state you can achieve great things.
“Feeling anxious or nervous … players should feel like I’ve earned the right to get nervous,” he said. “Sitting T66 on Sunday is not getting the juices flowing so when you get into contention you better embrace it because you’ve earned the excitement.
“When you have that you can do really special things physically and mentally. You can do things beyond the normal. We see this from elite players often.”
Justin Rose comments before HSBC Champions
FedExCup champion Justin Rose — who this week defends his title at the World Golf Championships–HSBC Champions — tries to ignore the ramifications of each shot in his mental approach.
A year ago he started eight shots off the lead on Sunday, yet was able to reel in a faltering Dustin Johnson, and then more importantly stay in control when he went from a relatively pressure free environment to having plenty on his shoulders.
For Rose, the Shanghai win came because he kept the free-flowing process going all day. He didn’t succumb to the tenseness of finding an unexpected lead.
He recognized the moment but was able to execute as if it wasn’t really there.
“For me, it's about freeing it up,” Rose said. “I think trying harder is the opposite for me. It's becoming in the moment, just freeing it up. That's the best way I can describe it: Releasing the putter head, flowing everything, great rhythm.
“It’s sort of not trying to over-control the result, because I think when you do that, you generally tighten up and it doesn't go your way. It's kind of trusting yourself and trusting that your commitment and execution is going to take you to the finish line.”
Marc Leishman, winner of the CIMB Classic just two weeks ago, said it is all about knowing yourself on an intimate level.
First you have to want those moments. Then you have to learn from them, study them, when they happen because they cannot be replicated in practice.
“It helps having been there before,” Leishman said. “Knowing how your body reacts. Knowing you. It doesn’t matter how Tiger, Justin or DJ do things, it is knowing your body and how you react.
“You need to live it to understand it. For me it is most important to breath properly. It becomes the only thing I think about. You trust the practice you are doing is the right things and you hope you’ve done enough to ingrain it in your body.
“Anyone on TOUR can play great golf when they are comfortable. But it is more important to have a method when you’re uncomfortable.”
You can be sure this week’s winner — and the trophy holders throughout the remainder of the season — will face the uncomfortable moments.
The thing is, they’ll be ready for it.