Spieth Meltdown at 2016 Masters-Valuable Life Lessons for All

Spieth 2016 Masters Meltdown-Valuable Life Lessons Abound
by Valerie Hartman, Career Development/Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Connector

This past Sunday, I, like many millions of people all over the world, sat in front of my television to watch the final round of the 80th Masters Tournament.  Yes, I love the game of golf.  When I was a child, my whole family played golf.  Ever the contrarian, I focused on competitive tennis in my early years. The golf bug bit me at 30 and it's been a love affair ever since.   So watching golf on tv during most Saturday and Sunday afternoons was a normal family ritual.  

While the Master's is a special sports viewing experience, especially for a lover of golf, this year's Masters was all the more special.  For it was this year that a young (22 years old) remarkably talented golfer name Jordan Spieth was about to make history by becoming the youngest (and one of a handful) repeat winner of the tournament (joining the likes of Gene Sarazan, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods).  He had already set the record for most consecutive rounds as leader of the tournament (7), previously set by Arnold Palmer. So sitting down this Sunday was truly an opportunity to be witness to something extraordinary.

Spieth's front nine was something to behold.  As other players faltered one by one, this 22 year old phenom ripped off 4 birdies in a row on the last 4 holes-amazing!  I had the good fortune of having watched him in person win the FedEx Cup in spectacular fashion.  With remarkable laser focus and intensity and determination, he hit shots and made seemingly impossible putts to win the season ending event.  I was struck by his intensity, concentration and methodical devotion to his pre-shot "routine" and rhythm.

As Spieth made the turn to the back 9 at Augusta, a notoriously challenging back nine, it had the feeling of a walk toward destiny.  His lead was 5 shots-a seeming insurmountable distance for another player to cover.  Bogeys on 10 and 11 lessened the divide but a 3 shot lead standing on 12 certainly seemed like a pretty sure thing.  And then it happened.  The 12th hole, a deceptively tough par 3 over Rae's Creek, had been the nemesis of Spieth's in 2014.  Watching his pre-shot routine, usually so grooved, methodical and steady, you could see that something didn't seem quite right.  And sure enough, his tee shot landed short of the green-bumped into the upslope and dropped into the water.  While not great, not tragic. 

 But the body language, the gaze, the determined and consistent "unflappable" pre-shot routine seemed to disappear as he walked down the fairway to hit what would now be his third shot (one in, two out, hitting three) back over the water to the green.  And then it happened again...rushed, out of sync-the next shot landed in the water.  And a dazed look of shock and disconnect replaced what had 5 minutes beforehand been the look of a confident champion.  Now hitting his 5th shot into a par 3, he finally hit it over the water but now over the green into trap.  He now had to walk to the trap, hit his 6th shot out of the bunker back toward the water.  Remarkably, he kept it together and managed to get it up and down in 2 (out of the bunker and one put).

 And just like that, with a quadruple bogey (4 over par), Spieth went from 1st place to 4th place. What seemed like a certain walk toward victory of historic proportions was now an epic meltdown of tragic proportions.  Spieth, ever the astonishingly and impressively tough competitor, managed to regroup, birdie 2 of the remaining 6 holes and finished at 2 under tied for 2nd.

 But the damage was done.  With 2 quick swings on the 12th, the entire tide of a championship and date with history was undone.  In reading the interviews with Spieth the last few weeks, as he reflected and analyzed what happened, some great teachable life lessons spilled forth. 

 1.     Figure Out Your Best "Pre-Shot" Routine and Stick to It -  Every great player has his/her own pre-shot routine that works.  It takes time to figure out what works best.  Lots of trial and error.  And it can always evolve.  This applies not only to great golfers but to any person wanting to succeed.  And Spieth is no exception.  As he admitted, his tried and true pre-shot routine was abruptly altered as he stood over his tee shot at 12.  Perhaps it was the pressure or simply fatigue.   Whatever the reason, he altered this routine.  For him, that pre-shot routine ends with taking a long, deep breath right before hitting the ball (releasing nervous energy, centering and focusing himself at the task at hand etc.).  Standing over the tee shot at 12, he shared that he did not.  He stood over the ball, altered his routine, took no deep breath and made a quick, out of sync swing.   The result, a mishit ball that landed short and ended up in the water. Ouch!

2.     Commit to Action-Resist Attaching to the Negative Thoughts - Scientists have discovered that the average person has about 80,000 thoughts per day.  In Dr. Shad Helmstetter's awesome book What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, the average person hears up to 148,000 negative messages before reaching adulthood.  Self defeating and negative thoughts are a constant part of life.  The wise and wonderful Budhist Nun Pema Chodron writes and teaches extensively about using meditation as a tool tonot "attach" to the myriad of negative thoughts that run through our minds.   On the 12th hole, Spieth shared that he reacted to a series of negative thoughts and self doubt.  Instead of letting those negative thoughts go and not permeate his focus, he attached to them.  The result-an abrupt, reactive change of what kind of shot to hit at the last minute.  He admitted that, as in 2014, while deciding to hit a fade, last minute, he changed to a cut.  The details don't matter (fade, cut, draw etc.).  What matters is that once he had consulted with his caddy, made up his mind and committed to his shot, as he had done on every other shot in the tournament, he was mentally set to execute that shot.  And then the negative thoughts triggered self-doubt in his mind.  He reacted and quickly abandoned his planned shot.  And instead of backing away, regrouping, rethinking and recommitting to a plan of action, he took a quick swing, hit the cut that landed short of the green and rolled into the water. 

3.     Take a Breath, Exhale and Mind the PAUSE - The breath is like an anchor.  It centers and grounds us.  Like so many, when stress and pressure rise, the tendency is to shorten the breath, take in less oxygen or even forget to truly breathe.  As noted by Spieth, a key part of his pre-shot routine is taking a breath.  With pressure mounting, Spieth didn't take the deep breath on No. 12.  He failed to let out the excess energy.  He also forgot the all important PAUSE.  Tara Brach, a wonderful and wise meditation teacher and psychotherapist, refers to the "pause" as a gift-the opportunity to reset/regroup/refocus. As mentioned, Spieth changed his mind last minute.  Instead of backing away, taking another deep breath, deciding once again on which shot to hit, recommitting to that shot, and stepping back up to the ball with the new but certain swing thought, he just took a quick swing.  With contradictory swing thoughts, confusion and a lack of laser focus commitment that had been serving him so well, he didn't pause-didn't take that moment to clear out the contradictions, gain clarity and commitment to his plan of action.  And the results reflected it.   

 Lessons learned by Spieth for the next tournament and beyond.  Lessons to be learned by all of us for life.
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