Try Too Hard

“How to fail: Try too hard.”

-- Entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes (1919 – 1990)

I know it’s not the exactly the same, but whether you are playing in a local charity event or in one of the four Majors, there is the matter of how one handles pressure. And while a local team competition is more about fun and friendship, I freely admit that I want to play well – or least occasionally make a contribution to my team. I simply didn’t want to disappoint my teammates.

This weekend 103rd PGA Championship is at Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Ocean Course (Note: It will be playing an amazing 7,876 yards!). The defending PGA champion is Collin Morikawa who won his first Major at Harding Park by defeating Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey by two strokes – 267 to 269. On the final day, Morikawa, a 2019 Cal Berkeley grad, shot a remarkable 6 under 64 to overtake first-round leader Johnson and Casey, who he was tied with for fourth place.

I love watching the Majors because they are special. Special to all of the players. You can see the intensity on the players’ faces throughout all four rounds. A player knows that one mistake can cost him both fame and fortune. Winning the Wells Fargo Championship or the John Deere Classic is great for the pocket book, but winning a Major is tombstone worthy. There’s a very fine line between focus and trying too hard. As 13-time Major winner Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course -- the space between your ears.”

Whether you are playing in the first round of our Presidents Cup or the final round of a Major, a golfer has to learn to deal with pressure. Perhaps taking a cue from former Major winners will help you deal with your next BIG SHOT.

Don’t try too hard to hole every putt. A 'must make' attitude puts too much pressure on your stroke. Just do your best to get the correct line and speed and roll the ball at the hole on that line.” – Two-time Master champion Ben Crenshaw (Born 1952)

Under extreme pressure I try to think, SMOOTH stroke, smooth stroke, smooth stroke, smooth stroke, smooth stroke. Even I didn’t make a smooth stroke, this keeps out the bad thoughts that come into my mind at the wrong time. – Australian Ian Baker-Finch (Born 1960), who won the 1991 British Open at Royal Birkdale GC.

You have to lose Majors to win Majors. But the ones you lose, it hurts. At the ’95 PGA at Riviera, I had a three-shot lead entering the final round and lost. I had close calls in ’96 at the U.S. Open and (British) Open Championship. Looking back, I wanted it too much. I put too much pressure on myself. It made me tense and that’s not how you play good golf. Sure, I’ve won four Majors, but it could have been six, seven or eight. -- South African Ernie Els (Born 1969) has won four Majors (U.S. Open 1994 & 1997 and British Open 2002 & 2012).

When you have a specific image in your mind and commit to it, you tighten your focus. It’s also an important part of handling pressure. You’re giving your mind something to do other than be nervous. – Martin Kaymer (Born 1984) won the 2010 PGA and the 2014 U.S. Open.

But, under pressure, I do use one simple swing thought: I pick a spot a foot in front of the ball and hit there it -- hard. That takes my mind off the outcome of the shot and keeps me in the process. -- Rory McIlroy (Born 1989) has won four Majors (2011 U.S. Open, 2014 British Open and 2012 & 2014 PGA.

The greater the pressure, the less you should try to ‘finesse’ the shot. Take your time in analyzing the situation, then go with the highest-percentage club – the one you can swing most normally.” -- Jack Nicklaus (Born 1940), winner of 18 Majors.

I don't think I'll ever stop learning about my game and my ability. As far as managing my game better, I think basically it is having much better knowledge of the strong points of my game and the weak points in different situations, be it a pressure situation, a gambling situation - whatever. -- Craig Stadler (Born 1953), who won the Masters in 1982. (Said in June 1982 NYT interview.)

I remembered Sam Snead’s advice about a steady head when I came to the par-3 16th hole in the 1977 Masters. The last day I was tied for the lead with Jack Nicklaus. As I swung a 5-iron, I had that one thing in mind: keep my head still and swing my shoulders around it. I hit the shot dead-center flush, right at the flag. The pressure I’d been feeling all day just drained out of my body, replaced by the confidence I felt from performing that shot in such a crucial situation. I two-putted for par, birdied 17, and parred 18 to win.” – Tom Watson (Born 1949), 8-time Major winner.

Below are the current odds for the top 17 players at this year’s PGA. While the odds favor Rory, I find it difficult to believe that he will his first Major since 2014. I am going with Spaniard Jon Ram to win his first Major. Why? He’s due and he’s been a consistent contender having six Top-10 finishes in his past 12 Majors.


2021 PGA Championship Odds


Odds/World Ranking

Rory McIlroy


Justin Thomas


Jon Rahm


Jordan Spieth


Bryson DeChambeau


Dustin Johnson


Xander Schauffele


Viktor Hovland


Daniel Berger


Collin Morikawa


Brooks Koepka


Hideki Matsuyama


Patrick Cantlay


Webb Simpson


Cameron Smith


Patrick Reed


Tony Finau


Play Away!

Allan Stark


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