Training the Mental Side
At times, Norman seems to have been in denial about his choking and is very defensive with the media about it. After his collapse at the Masters, he said: All these hiccups I have, they must be for a reason. All this is just a test. I just do not know what the test is yet. But he’s taken steps to get a handle on the mental side of his game, huddling with sport psychologists and positive thinking gurus like Anthony Robbins. From them, he has learned 48 different strategies, including a type of visualization in which he pulls a chain in his mind as if to flush negative thoughts down an imaginary toilet. What I took out of my session with T ony was a reminder of who I’m and how good I am, Norman said. Sometimes you forget all the little things you have done. Little things? Like winning more than 70 tournaments!
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Norman has used anger as an extra club in his bag. In the 1995 NEC World Series of Golf, Norman nearly quit after the first day of competition when he claimed that playing partner Mark McCumber cheated by tapping down the green on his putting line, a charge that McCumber denied. I could have bench pressed 500 pounds,
I was that mad, said Norman, who channeled that intensity into the rest of the tournament to rebound from an opening day 73 and come from behind and win the championship. The incident seemed to have the opposite effect on McCumber, who shot 68 opening day, but ballooned to 76 the next day and finished 14 shots behind Norman.
Another golfer, Davis Love III, once considered the best golfer not to have won a major title, looks on choking as something you learn to defeat and once you do, you have more success in pressure situations. I’m glad to be rid of it, he said after finally losing the label of choker and winning the 1997 PGA championship. I’m looking forward to taking this and running with it and turning it into a lot more chances.
Some athletes are aware of their choking, but it only adds to worry, more anxiety, poor performance, and perhaps injuries like cramps. At the 1997 world track and field championships in Athens, sprinter Ato Boldon, of Trinidad and Tobago, was considered the favorite in the 100 meters and put more pressure on himself by boasting he would win. But he finished fifth after his thighs cramped. Do I have finalitis? he said to reporters after the race. Why is it every time I get into a world final, I cannot finish the race properly? Then, after a good cry, he competed in the 200-meter finals and won the gold medal, his first major title.
Another form of choking, but more of the long-term variety, is when athletes go into a slump. A main reason for a slump’s enduring nature seems to be related to an athlete’s psyche, when his mind and body are out of sync, when the head gets in the way of body and muscle memory, according to Alan S. Goldberg, EdD, a sport psychology consultant and author of Sports Slump Busting (Human Kinetics, 1997).
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