Monday, July 23, 2007

Choking

Choking is the most evil of phrases for an athlete. Yet, it is undeniable. In the simplest form when the ones body no longer functions as precisely as one wants to due to the pressure of the moment it is choking. It can be physical or it can be mental decision making. It is real. The mind body connection makes it is close to inevitable.

Sunday's British Open final round glorified choking. It was in abundance. Sergio Garcia suddenly couldn't make the same putts he had made all week. Pradig Harrington' display on 18 in regulation was a complete melt down.

Honestly, I watch golf for the choke. How will the pressure impact these athletes as they attempt to avoid the slightest imperfections. It is like watching Nascar for a car crash. Almost without fail every Sunday on the golf course showcases the choke.

The isolation of a golfer makes it easily visible. The PGA Tour slogan is "these guys are good" and then all of a sudden they look like us spraying it everywhere.

Golfers aren't weaker mentally than another athlete. Hitting a golf ball is no more difficult than what a hitter in baseball is doing or a quarterback in football. Therefore, the choking we see on Sunday on a golf course must be happening everywhere else in sports, but isn't as isolated and thus a bit harder to see.

Go back to the 2001 Seattle Mariners. A team that was flawless all season until they suddenly lost their ability to function against the New York Yankees in the ALCS. At the time guys talk about leaving sawdust at the plate from holding the bats so tight. They choked. Collectively or individually that group changed due to the pressure of the moment.

Barry Bonds has been a terrible playoff player his entire career. Is it a coincidence, was he really pitched that much tougher or are the playoffs his Sunday round of golf?

In hoops it is harder to see because 5 guys are working together. However, go back to the 1996 NBA Western Conference Series between the Sonics and the Jazz. On the biggest play of the game the Jazz defenders Karl Malone and Greg Foster switched leaving Foster on Shawn Kemp despite the fact the Jazz hadn't switched defensively all game. Was this the equivalent of thew wrong club selection on a Sunday?

What took place at the British Open highlighted how fragile the mental psyche is for the greatest of the world's golfers. The same is taking place in every high pressure sporting event, some times it is not as obvious.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Watching the guys' games change on Sundays is uncanny.

My problem is that the word "choked" is overused in the talk radio/internet message board world.

Harrington choked on 18 because he failed to perform to the same level as he had all day because of the magnitude of the situation.

Mickelson did not choke at Winged Foot last year off the tee - he only hit 2 of 14 fairways throughout the day - he was simply mechanically screwed up. He choked on his second shot by trying to bend a 3 iron around a tree to get to the green instead of pitching up to 150 yards and taking double bogey out of play. The magnitude of the moment screwed with his decision-making.

Norwood is called a choker for the Super Bowl but he was simply a bad long-distance kicker and 47 was out of his range. Gary Anderson, however, was perfect in '98 until missing a short one that would have clinched the NFC Title for the Vikes - that was a choke.