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Winged Foot's head cases: Major meltdowns could have lasting impact on players

Here’s my column from this week in the Post. Interestingly I spoke with Dr. Dana Sinclair, the sports psychologist who works with several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players, as well as the RCGA, (her quotes didn’t make the story) about the three some of which I discuss in the story. She said there are two types of players — those afraid to lose and those who simply want to win. Mickelson falls clearly into the second camp, and she said these sorts of meltdowns rarely have much influence on that type of player. That type of golfer always feels he should win and doesn’t worry that he won’t. Montgomerie, on the other hand…..

Winged Foot’s head cases: Major meltdowns could have lasting impact on players

Robert Thompson
On Golf

Geoff Ogilvy may have slipped in the back door and stolen the U.S. Open, but the damage inflicted on the psyches of Colin Montgomerie, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson might have the most lasting impact. By now, the drama that ended the final half-hour of last weekend’s U.S. Open is well known. Three top players, Montgomerie, Furyk and Mickelson, all had the U.S. Open within their grasp. The outside shot, Ogilvy from Australia, managed to capture the title when all three stars stumbled badly on the final hole at the tremendously difficult Winged Foot Golf Club. In golf speak, what the three did is called “throwing up on yourself.” In this case, all three could be accused of projectile vomiting, given the incredible result.

Mickelson’s disaster was perhaps the most stinging and potentially the most distracting. Mickelson travels to major venues prior to the tournaments armed with a team, including a swing coach and a short-game coach. He’s supposed to be totally prepared. But when his driver went sideways on the final holes, all that preparation went out the window.

Instead of the plotting Mickelson who has taken apart courses on his way to winning three major championships, he became the Phil of old, gambling on two high-risk shots on the final hole with little hope of a payoff.

Mickelson’s failure to win isn’t as big an issue as how he failed. Though he’s clearly the best player in the world at the moment, his swashbuckling confidence might have taken enough of a hit that it could hurt his game. However, Mickelson’s comments after the round seem to indicate the dramatic loss might help focus him more clearly on managing his game.

The same might not be true of Furyk. The U.S. Open seems tailor-made for the man with the loopy swing, since he hits the ball as straight as anyone in the world. Though he was grinding out pars on Sunday, it was also clear that the tough setup at Winged Foot was putting a great amount of pressure on his putting, which is usually rock solid. The failure to make the short putt on the final hole might be chalked up to a simple mistake. But Furyk laboured over it for such a long period that it seemed like self-doubt.

Winning a second U.S. Open would have moved up Furyk with some of golf’s greatest names and capped an already great year. Now we’ll have see whether the loss causes one of the game’s steadiest players to second-guess himself more regularly.

For Montgomerie, the loss is now part of a career that has been defined by his inability to get the job done in the U.S. He’s had his chances to win in the U.S. Open twice before, only to have victory snatched from his grasp. In this case he only had himself to blame.

“This was the first time in the majors I’ve really messed up,” he said after his round. “But at my age you’ve got to think positively. There I go, sounding like a bloody sports psychologist! But you’re entitled to a couple of mess-ups along the way.”

The problem with Monty, who is 43 on Friday, is that this could well be his last shot at a major championship. In a sport where great players are defined by the number of majors they have won, the grumpy Scot’s career will fall short of that standard. He’s been outstanding in Ryder Cups, but could never close a victory in North America.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Fate may have done Monty in. Had he only had to wait for 9 minutes instead of 10 to hit his approach shot, he would have hit 6 iron stiff instead of switching off at the last second to 7 into the junk becuase he decided at the last second that his adrenaline would give him 20 yards. by the way,
    The Temple of Love – The World Peace Religion http://www.thetempleoflove.com/
    is the only religion in which Golf figures prominently.

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