At the Players Championships last weekend, Sergio Garcia was out of the competition before he teed a ball up on Sunday. The previous day, he had publicly complained that Tiger Woods, his playing partner, had created an intentional distraction by pulling out a five-wood to go for the green with a difficult lie. The crowd’s loud and vocal reaction to Wood’s aggressive club selection allegedly caused Garcia to hit a bad shot.
Garcia is a great player who has suffered from severe bouts of anxiety, constant re-gripping, and the “yips,” a mental block that prevents a player from hitting a golf shot. With this predisposition to high levels of anxiety, a player like Garcia has to be highly mindful of avoiding distractions that can cause his mind to be overloaded and overwhelmed by stress, pressure, and distractions.
By publicly calling Tiger Woods out and drawing tremendous attention to himself and his game, he set himself up to go into the final round under immense pressure. All eyes and all television cameras would undoubtedly be on Garcia throughout his round.
The pressure finally caused Garcia to buckle, and his game fell apart on the par-3 17th hole, where he hit two balls into the water and suffered through a quadruple bogey seven. He also found more water on 18 and had a double bogey. He lost six shots on the final two holes—a catastrophic meltdown by any standard.
One of the fundamental rules of the mental game is to control what you can control by allowing yourself to be distracted by the Woods club selection and the thunderous response of the crowd. Garcia sent his brain into overload. Garcia sealed his fate by following it up by chastising Woods in his post-round interview.
The yips, re-gripping, or any other symptom associated with anxiety are all signs the brain is trying to process too much information. Instead of focusing on a golf shot, Garcia’s brain was most likely focused on distractions that had dreadful consequences for his golf swing.
Woods commented on Garcia’s accusations: “It doesn’t surprise me that he (Garcia) is complaining about something.” Woods went on to fight off all challengers and win the Players Championship for the second time. There is plenty to be said for Tiger’s mental toughness. A trait he has consistently displayed on his way back to the top of the golf world. His ability to maintain laser-like focus on Sunday allowed him to succeed where others, namely Garcia, faltered.