What happened to Rory McIlroy?
Choking at the 2011 Masters
"For 63 holes in this golf tournament, I was leading and just a couple of bad holes on the back nine just sort of derailed me," McIlroy was quoted about his Master's performance in USA Today.
Choking occurs when someone performs less than their skill level suggests they should. This happens with a shift in focus from the task at hand to internal distractions such as negative thoughts or anxious feelings. Perhaps he got ahead of himself on the tenth hole when he hit between the cottages. Maybe he felt the pressure of the competitive round, Tiger's charge and so many others performing well. "When you're hearing roars, you pretty much knew what was going on," he admitted.
Rory triple bogeyed the 10th, and based on his quote above it sounds like he got caught up in his mistakes. I imagine his focus was no longer on his swing - but on his score, the competition, and his failure.
So how do you prevent choking? SLOW DOWN! At the first sign of anxiety (rapid heart rate, thoughts speeding up, tension) take a deep belly breath. In through the nose for 5. Hold for a second. Out through the mouth for 7. Listen to the exhale. Drop your shoulders on counts "6-7." Do it again if you have to. Then again until your mind is clear and you feel back in control.
Think of the early signs of tension as a yellow light. Unlike when you are driving you don't want to speed up through it (although that is what you will feel like doing - trying harder). Yellow means "caution." You are starting to lose control. Slow down. Breathe until you get back to a green light (focused on the here and now and relaxed) and then go... Rory ran the red light! To his credit, he owned his performance and his failure. And it is that kind of accountability I believe will have him ultimately succeed.
If you try to perform physically when your mind or emotions are out of control - you are setting yourself up to fail. Use your breath to stay in control and play your best.
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