One of the hallmarks of a great golfer is his or her ability to perform under pressure. Hall of Fame greats like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods famously rose to the occasion time and again. And recreational players aspire to emulate their unflinching demeanor in high-octane moments.
But on this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, renowned sports psychologist Dr. Bhrett McCabe explained why the ideal of staying calm under pressure is not only an unrealistic goal — it’s a farce.
“I hate people who say you gotta be calm under pressure,” McCabe said. “Tiger wasn’t calm. I can tell you underneath he wasn’t calm. He was directed and focused, but he had adrenaline.
“Players are nervous,” McCabe continued. “They may not admit it. We can’t see people’s thought bubbles. We can’t see what’s in their head so we get a portrayal of who they are. But the real players are willing to go in there and say, this is what I learned today. I don’t need to change, but I just need to be more aware of, you know, when I got into this situation, this is where I felt something.”
McCabe then used Sam Burns as a recent example of how to overcome discomfort on the course. McCabe said Burns was struggling with a grip change that just didn’t feel right.
“I said look, it’s now Wednesday night, there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it,” McCabe said. “It’s with you for the week. So I said, your question is, can you be the guy who can commit to shots, or are you gonna be the guy that plays golf grip?
“You’ve got to go out there and play golf with a funky grip feel. Just accept it! But be you! Admit it! Say it! Understand it. Be a part of it! And he just plodded along all week. He came in fifth. But he damn near came in second. And it was like, that’s what it’s all about! That’s being a player.”
For more insights from McCabe, including the advice McCabe gave to Jon Rahm in the wake of his U.S. Open victory, and the four prongs required for success as a professional athlete, check out the full interview below.