Article #4 - Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events (Published in 2010)

Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events:  Golfer Ben Crane wins the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open (Originally published in 2010).


Ben Crane won The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego without even realizing what he had just accomplished.  After sinking his final putt on the 72nd hole, his fellow competitor, Ryuji Imada, turned toward Crane and said, “Congratulations.”  Crane appeared somewhat surprised and responded by asking Imada, “Did I win? Did I win the tournament?”  And indeed, Crane had come out on top, notching his third win on the PGA Tour.


How do you explain a guy who wins a pretty big tournament, yet he doesn’t even know what he has just achieved?


Late in the season last year, Crane had a meeting with his “team,” consisting of his manager, caddie, fitness consultant, and several others, including mental game expert Lanny Bassham.   They discussed what had been going well for Crane, but also defined some areas that definitely needed improvement.  One of the results of this meeting was the conclusion that instead of focusing on the outcome of a particular shot (or round, or event), Crane would be better off focusing primarily on the mental process involved in each individual shot.


So for the past several months Ben Crane and his team have taken a different perspective on his golf game.  What they talk about after any particular round or tournament is not how well he fared, but instead how well he engaged in the mental processes of preparing for and executing each of his shots.  Crane and his team believe that if the mental preparation and mental execution of a shot is proper, then the likelihood of a good outcome is increased. 


He said that in the past, he and his team tended to let the results of a particular competition determine how they felt about his level of play and how successful he had been.  This year, the attitude they adopted was that if they focused on the mental process and worked toward improving that aspect of his game, then the results would take care of themselves.  In essence, their belief was that although results matter, the best way to achieve good results is by focusing on the mental process of preparing for, and executing, each shot.  


In an interview after he won the tournament Crane was asked about a three-putt he had on the 13th hole.  He stated, “Yeah, the one on 13, I lipped out the first putt coming down the hill there, hit a beautiful putt.  And then the second putt, I hit absolutely perfectly, and it hit something and literally took the hardest left bounce I’ve ever seen in my life.  So actually, it didn’t bother me on the par five (13th hole) there because it was like, hey, I did everything I was supposed to do, hit a good wedge in there, hit a good second putt, and it just hit something and bounced off line.”  


His comments about that three-putt clearly illustrate his decision to focus on the process, rather than the outcome.  Far too many golfers become unglued or overly frustrated when they three-putt.  They become angry, overly critical, and perhaps fearful of when the next three-putt will occur.  They might conclude that “This just isn’t my day” when a good putt gets knocked off line. 


But by making it his priority to focus on the process rather than the outcome, Ben Crane did not allow himself to think in such destructive and non-helpful ways.  He had played the hole well even though the result, the outcome, was unfortunate.  Looking back at the process, he said, “I did everything I was supposed to do.”  He reinforced himself for what he had done properly and did not dwell on the outcome.  Crane further explained that when he meets with his team after a round of golf, “We talk differently about the round.  We don’t talk directly about results, we talk about the process I went through before, during and after each shot and how that went.  And to judge myself based on that as opposed to the outcome.”


One of the keys, then, to Crane’s success is his ability to let go of concerns about the outcome, and instead use his mental energy to stay focused on the mental process of preparing for and executing each individual shot.  It’s a fact that we can only truly focus on a limited number of things at any one time.  Ben Crane has come to the realization that in order to play his best golf, he’s going to keep his attention focused on what will give him the best chance of succeeding.  And that means that he maintains his focus on the process at hand, and directs none of his attention to worrying about the results.


It’s a paradox of sorts, but it’s a great mental strategy for boosting your chances of success.  Strangely enough, the best way to increase the likelihood of an excellent outcome is by choosing to stay focused on the process at hand, giving none of your attention to what the outcome of the shot means.


If you choose to think like this, you too might just find yourself playing well enough that when your fellow competitors shake your hand and offer their congratulations, your honest response is, “Did I win?”


What a great reward for staying focused on the process; winning a tournament without even realizing it!




Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

Las Vegas Sport Psychology
5037 Portraits Place
Las Vegas, NV 89149