Article #10 - Mental Skills & Recent Sporting Events: John Cook Wins the 2009 Charles Schwab Cup Championship (Originally published in 2009)

After shooting four rounds in the 60s, including a final round 69, John Cook won the Charles Schwab Cup Championship by five strokes.  In the post-tournament press conference, Cook alluded to some specific mental strategies he used to pull off his second victory in the last three weeks.

One of the strategies he discussed involved not getting too far ahead of himself when he had a big lead in the final round. “It’s not that easy playing with a big lead, I can tell you that.  Your mind starts to wander a little bit, and you really have to reign yourself in.”  He explained that he and his caddie kept reminding themselves to stay in the moment, and not get distracted by the size of the lead they had.   He stated, “We just stay on point, stay on point all day.  This is what we need to do.”

He mentioned his loss earlier in the year when he had a one shot lead coming up to the par four 18th hole at the Jeld-Wen Tradition.  He hit the fairway off the tee, but his approach shot, which he described as “the worst swing of the week,” ended up in a back right bunker.  He was not fully committed to his shot and his club selection, leading to his ball missing the green.  He was unable to get up and down for the par, and subsequently lost the tournament to Mike Reid on the first hole of a sudden death playoff.

In referring to the loss at the Tradition, Cook stated, “The event.....was mine and I let it go.  I just was so torn up by the mistake I made at the last hole; I said that ain’t gonna happen again.”  Rather than hanging his head in defeat, Cook decided he could learn from his mistake.  He subsequently convinced himself that he needed to be committed to improving his game, and he also recognized that he needed to be more aggressive during tournaments.

At the Charles Schwab Cup, Cook did play more aggressively.  “I got a little more aggressive around the golf course….you know, go ahead and take a cut at it.  I took shots at pins more.”  Although more aggressive, he still played intelligently.  “I learned from Venturi, just middle of the green, and then when you have a ‘go’ flag, you go at it.”  He knew he was swinging well, and because of that, he told himself, “Just go ahead and trust it and fire at some flags.  Stay aggressive” 

Regarding his excellent putting during the tournament, Cook said, “I’ve been working incredibly hard putting.  It’s the one thing that I think has really kept me back.  I got maybe a little more aggressive on the greens than I normally do.  I’ve putted good the last couple months.”

Finally, Cook referred to the importance of sticking to his aggressive game plan, regardless of how his score matched up to the other players.  Part of his plan was to hit driver on the vast majority of the longer holes.  “I hit drivers off just about every hole except one and 18.  That was a big key.  You know, I stayed with my game plan, so (I’m) pretty happy with this one.” 

What can we learn from John Cook’s winning mental approach at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship? 

One important mental strategy to implement is that of staying in the present moment and not getting “ahead” of yourself.  The shot at hand is the only thing which needs your attention.  Don’t allow your mind to wander with thoughts about winning, or what this shot means in terms of your standing in the tournament.

A second key strategy is the idea that when you make a costly mistake, your best option is to commit to learning from the mistake, and then commit to doing what it takes to improve your game.  There is no way of “undoing” a mistake, and beating yourself up for it is not at all helpful.  Learn from the mistake, commit to not making the mistake again, and then leave the mistake behind you.

Another important mental strategy is before the competition even begins, develop a well thought-out game plan, and stick with it during your play. 

And finally, when you have a large lead, don’t switch over to a protective mode of play.  Stay aggressive, fire at pins when it’s appropriate, and keep striving to go even lower.

Remember, the more often you think like a pro, the more often you’ll play like a pro.  Take responsibility for how you think and you’ll improve your game!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

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