Mental game: Master the mind – Australian Golf Digest
Australian Golf Digest
[Feature image: Getty images – Gregory Shamus]
The record book was clear – the feat had never been done before. History suggested it was a near improbability.
But one week after Joohyung “Tom” Kim became the first player to ever win on the PGA Tour after opening the tournament with a quadruple-bogey, famed golf instructor Todd Anderson got his first up-close look at the Korean sensation. And after their opening introduction, the long-time coach of Billy Horschel was anything but surprised by the young star’s history-making accomplishment.
“He’s got a great personality. You can see he’s an easygoing, fun-loving kid that has fun playing golf,” Anderson said. “He obviously takes it seriously, but he has a good time, he enjoys it, he laughs, he smiles and he embraces playing, and I think that’s one of the things that he’s got going for him. He’s kind of a fun-loving guy, at least that’s the perception that he’s given off.”
Anderson and Kim didn’t leave much discussion to the 20-year-old’s startling run at the Wyndham Championship trophy, or his subsequent clinching of a PGA Tour card for the new season. But the director of instruction at the PGA Tour Performance Centre at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship, still gleaned plenty of insight into Kim’s steady demeanour.
On the driving range at the FedEx St Jude Championship, Horschel took one of Kim’s balls out of his practice pile rather than walk to get a fresh bag. As he turned back around, Anderson recalled Kim “got down to hover over the balls and protect them from Billy taking them”.
“I joked, ‘Gosh, Tom, your balls go better than Billy’s goes. He said back, ‘Well, I want Billy to hit them for me.’
“He just seems like he’s got the kind of personality that he enjoys playing, enjoys competing, doesn’t beat himself up too much. I think he’s going to be good for the game, just his style and how much fun he has, how appreciative he is to have the opportunity.”
Players laughing with one another at the practice area may not be groundbreaking news, but it’s nevertheless noteworthy for a fresh-faced PGA Tour rookie to feel comfortable enough doing so in his first start as a member.
Then again, few should be surprised considering what Kim has accomplished these past few months. It began in Scotland, where a third-place finish at the Genesis Scottish Open and a tie for 47th at the Open Championship earned him special temporary membership.
He needed a win at the regular season finale, the Wyndham Championship, to both earn his card for 2022-2023 and claim a spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. And he did just that, closing with a nine-under 61 to become the second-youngest winner on the PGA Tour since World War II.
And he did it all despite making a quadruple-bogey on the first hole, becoming the first player to do so since hole-by-hole stats were first kept in 1983. Only four other players have made a quad or worse on any hole in any round before going on to win, and two are Australians: Adam Scott, 2016 Honda Classic; Phil Mickelson, 2009 Tour Championship; David Toms, 2003 Wells Fargo Championship; David Graham, 1983 Houston Open.
“It was funny, the way he described it was like he wasn’t too concerned,” Anderson said. “He just said, ‘You know what, I’ve got a bunch of holes left.’ There was no sense of urgency, it wasn’t like he hit the panic button.
“I think that’s the most important thing. Yeah, he got off to a bad start, made a quad, but still had 35 holes left to play. He still went out with the mindset of trying to improve from it as opposed to thinking, Oh gosh, I just started out with an 8. What’s going to happen from here?”
The biggest challenge facing players after an inauspicious start is to stay in the present, Anderson said. That applies to players on the PGA Tour all the way down to those just picking up the game.
“You can’t look back and you can’t look ahead, all you can really control is the shot at hand,” he said. “So you have to stay in the moment, and just because you made an 8 on the first hole doesn’t mean it has to be a bad round. You still have plenty of holes coming back, you could put some good shots together and have some good holes and still have a decent round.”
With the bad hole behind you, ask yourself one question: how are you going to react to the situation?
“Are you going to let that define you, and are you going to become tentative and scared?” Anderson posited. “Or are you going to say, ‘You know what? That was a fluke. I’m just going to forget about that hole, I’m just going to start fresh on this next hole, I’m going to try to play this hole well, the next shot and hopefully next hole well, and just keep building from there.’”
Anderson is quick to point out one of his personal favourite stories of resilience.
In the second leg of the 2014 FedEx Cup Playoffs, at the Deutsche Bank Championship, Horschel needed a birdie at the par-5 last to force a playoff with Chris Kirk only to shockingly hit his second into a hazard, settling for bogey.
Horschel, who started the playoffs 69th in the standings, went on to win each of his next two starts at the BMW and Tour championships, winning his first FedEx Cup in the process.
Naturally, he credited his mental approach (and Anderson, of course) to the career-altering week.
“The mental mindset, I just changed the way I acted out on the golf course,” he said after winning the Tour Championship. “Being a little bit less hard on myself, being accepting of the golf shots, however they turned out.
“The other thing was, I’ve got one of the best teachers in the game of golf. I don’t think anyone can come close to what he does. He’s just not a swing coach, he’s a short-game coach, he’s a putting coach, he talks to me about the mental side of the game. Todd Anderson is just unbelievable. There’s not a better guy in this business and I think if you went up and down the range, talked to players and coaches, they would say the same exact thing.”
Anderson is quick to point out that it was Horschel who made all the mental adjustments necessary to win. Just like how Kim did at the Wyndham Championship.
“He could have let that shot define him, could have gone the next week and played terrible and felt sorry for himself,” Anderson said. “But he said, ‘No, I’m playing well. I hit a bad shot at the wrong time but I’m going to go out and play great this week.’
“And that’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve just got to let go and not give it extra value. Yeah, that happened. I’m human, I’m going to make mistakes. But I’m not going to let it define me. I’m going to go ahead and try to clear the head and start from here and try to play well from here going in.”
Todd Anderson is the director of instruction at the PGA Tour Performance Centre at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players Championship. The 2010 American PGA Teacher of the Year has seen his students amass more than 50 victories across the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, including two FedEx Cup titles. He is currently rated by Golf Digest as one of the top 20 golf instructors in the United States.
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