Article #9 - Mental Skills & Recent Sporting Events: Ryan Moore Wins the 2009 Wyndham Championship (Originally published in 2009)

Mental Skills and Recent Sporting Events:  Ryan Moore wins the 2009 Wyndham Championship (Originally published in 2009).

The wait for that elusive first PGA Tour win is finally over for Ryan Moore.  After having had such an incredible amateur career, it must have been wickedly frustrating to have to wait for five years before scoring that first Tour victory.  Who knew it would take so long?  And what a win considering the circumstances!  The competition was delayed more than once by rain and darkness, and even after the final putt was holed by the final group on the 72nd hole, the competition still wasn’t over.  Moore had to endure three holes of sudden death before he was able to claim the trophy as his own.  Looking back on how difficult it was to wait for this first victory, he stated, “Oh man, this felt like an uphill battle the whole time I’ve been on the PGA Tour.”

In terms of physical aspects which had held him back, Moore referred to a nagging injury to his left hand and wrist.  “I haven’t been healthy.  My hand was hurting my very first professional tournament.  I’ve just been fighting those things…it’s just been a battle to get myself feeling like myself again.  With those types of injuries and everything, you start compensating…  It’s a constant adjustment.”  And although he still has some minor issues with his hand, it appears he has found a way to again be comfortable with how he swings a club.  His history as an amateur demonstrates he has had the physical talent to win, and this Tour victory certainly validates that history.

So what about Moore’s mental talents or mental skills?  What types of thinking did he use to help him achieve his first PGA victory?  What were the mental keys he used to accomplish this important breakthrough?

One of the mental strengths Moore displayed was his ability to regroup and regain his confidence after bogeying the 7th hole on Sunday.  As he walked off the tee, he felt very dissatisfied with how he had been playing, and he asked himself, “Ryan, why are you not playing like you’re going to win this golf tournament?”  He recognized his attitude was poor at that moment, and decided to do something about it.  In essence, he recognized the mental mistake he was committing, and rather than berate himself for the error, he decided to do something constructive.

“I really just kind of gave myself a pep talk.”  He said to himself, “Let’s hit every golf shot the rest of the day like you’re going to win this golf tournament.”

This type of thinking process is crucial for athletes who want to get to the top.  First, they are able to recognize when they are making mental mistakes.  In Ryan Moore’s case, he knew he wasn’t putting in 100 percent, and he had let his confidence level wane. Then, and perhaps most importantly, rather than dwelling on the mistake and beating himself  up, he made a conscious decision learn from that mistake, and made the commitment to use that learning to immediately make him a better competitor.  Moore stated, “I talked myself into it (confidence) a little bit there….and you know it started right there.  I hit a good wedge shot, made a good putt and just kind of really started going.”  And boy, did he start going!  Not only did he birdie the 8th hole, he birdied each of the holes from 12 through 16!

Moore exhibited another clear example of top-level mental skills as he prepared for the first play-off hole, number 18.  Although he had taken his play to a different, much higher level starting on number 8 in the final round, Moore bogeyed the final hole in regulation.  Without that bogey, he would have had his first win sewn up and over with.  The 18th hole played as the most difficult hole on the course on that Sunday, giving trouble to a number of players besides Moore.

Regarding the 18th, Moore said, “It’s a tough golf hole.  I’m not going to lie.  It’s not my favorite golf hole in the world…”  So how do you prepare for a playoff that begins on a brutal hole that had already robbed you of an opportunity to win for the first time?  This is how Moore handled it. As he was getting a ride from a rules official to the 18th tee to start the playoff, he made a conscious decision to take control of his thoughts, and not let the past dictate how he felt about such a difficult start to the sudden death playoff.  He told the official, “You know what, for right now it’s my favorite golf hole in the world and I’m going to love it and go do whatever I can to bury this hole.”

Rather than approaching the hole with fear and worry about the past, he made the decision to view this hole as a welcome challenge; a challenge he was determined to master.  What a powerful way of choosing to think!  And master the 18th hole he did, hitting the fairway each time in sudden death!  And when he hit that fine approach shot the last time the hole was involved in sudden death, he sank the putt to end the playoff and secured his first victory on the PGA Tour!

Moore’s victory at the Wyndham Championship demonstrates the crucial role proper mental skills play in tournament success.  Top athletes like Moore are able to quickly recognize when they are making mental errors.  Once they recognize this, they waste none of their focus or mental energy on berating themselves or getting down on themselves.  Instead, they decide to learn from the mistake they’ve made, and they use this learning to immediately take their game to a higher level.  They also keep in mind that rather than letting the past dictate how they think and feel, they always have the ability to choose the contents of their thoughts as well as the way they feel. 

And I’ll guarantee that if you choose to use mental skills such as these, your victories will come sooner rather than later!

Kevin J. Roby, Ph.D., MGCP

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