In this week's Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the 2014 U.S. Open Champion, and one of golf’s deepest thinkers, takes us inside the mind of a Major Champion and offers a fascinating insight into how his mental approach helps him not only as a golfer, but as a person.
I got more into the mental side of golf after all the success I had. I wanted to understand why I was successful. Some people say you shouldn’t ask those questions, you should have just gone with it, but I wanted to understand to get even more success. I’ve noticed so much over the last few years that the mental aspect on the golf course has so much to do with the mental aspect off the golf course. You need to have that balance in life and the understanding that golf, while important to us, is not everything. We have a passion for it, and we do feel the pressure at certain moments, but that is something very positive, because you care. At the end of the day, golf is just a little part of your life. If you make golf your priority in life and if your happiness is dependent on your success on the golf course, you are never going to get there.
Certain circumstances in life really help you understand where to place the importance of golf. I find it very interesting that some players take what happened on the golf course back to their hotel room or take it home. Often two or three days after they finish a tournament, they are still mad about shots they hit. I decided not to live my life like that. When you go through difficult times in life that are nothing to do with golf, it gives you perspective. For me it is very interesting to see other players and see how they approach it, which makes me think about how I want to approach it.
You can never truly mentally prepare for the big moments in golf. You can prepare a certain amount, but you never know how your body and your feelings will react in that spontaneous situation. You can’t prepare for that moment I had at the 2012 Ryder Cup. I always find it interesting that people want to control a game that can’t be controlled. You need to let go of that urge in order to be successful, but letting go as a human being is very difficult. We are not triggered that way. We want to be in control of our future. This game depends on so many things though. You have to understand that and accept that. Most people can understand it, but they have such difficulty in accepting it.
We all face the unknown in life. You don’t know what is happening tomorrow.You don’t know what phone call you are going to get from your family. You can’t prepare for that. You need to be spontaneous and have faith in your own life experiences that you can handle something. It is the same in golf. You have to believe you have what it takes to handle anything that comes your way. Knowing how good you are makes you not afraid of certain situations, but you also have to have a better understanding of life, have perspective and know your capabilities.
I am not the Martin Kaymer of 2010 or 2011. You need to have acceptance of where you are right now. If you look at the last six months, I am 100 in the world. I am not World Number One. This is where I am right now. The guy I need to beat now is the guy who is 99. It is not Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka or Justin Rose. Some players feel the need to be super confident and believe they are better than they are. Others are like me and think about their next step and that is what I need to do in order to get back to the top. If I was to compare myself with Justin Rose right now, it is a fantasy. Of course, it is possible I can become World Number One again. And of course, is it possible I can beat him this week in the U.S. Open, but to get back to the top takes time. It could happen any day, but in order to make it you have to relax. You have to accept the situation you are in right now.
My own mental approach is an intimate thing. I don’t really like to talk about exactly what I do. For me the best advice I got was from a Swedish guy I work with. I do Pilates with him and he also helps me with life coaching through understanding personalities, characters, human behaviour, fear, what drives people and what doesn’t drive people. He told me ‘you have to find your own way of creating calmness around you’. It is important to get rid of distractions. Unnecessary energy gets wasted. How you do that is different for everyone. For me, I know you can waste a lot of energy watching a TV series, for example. You ask yourself, what do you get out of watching TV for three hours in a hotel room? I get it, we spend a lot of time in hotel rooms and you need to get away from everything and it’s nice to relax. But I see people spending two or three hours on their phones, and to me I would rather do something different, go for a walk on the beach and leave the phone at home. That creates more energy for me. Everyone needs to find their own way though.
I try to avoid social media. It makes people think they are missing out on something. Comparison is one of the first things to limit yourself. You compare your life to theirs, but the life they portray is just a fantasy anyway. It is just the bits they want you to see. People start the day by looking at their phone to see the news or look at social media and it makes you compare yourself with other people. You start the day with negativity and feel down on yourself. Then you do the same at night before you go to bed. It is just a distraction.
People underestimate the power of being in the moment. The other week, I was sitting in a café in Phoenix with a cup of coffee. Nothing else. Just sitting there. A couple came up to me and asked me if I was ok. I said, ‘why shouldn’t I be ok?’. And she said, ‘because you are just sitting here’. I thought, what am I supposed to do? Should I dance? It’s so in our heads now that if someone just enjoys the moment, just enjoys the being, it is weird. People see it as not being normal, but who says being normal is good? Einstein was not normal. Barack Obama is not normal. To me, not being normal is a good thing. You try to create something for yourself. Being in the moment helps when you are on the golf course. Being aware of what you are doing, how you are walking, how you grip the club, it helps you be very much there. When I won the U.S. Open by eight shots in 2014, that was a week when I was in the moment as much as I could possibly ever be. The whole week. And I know how I did it, so I need to find my way back to that. It was nothing to do with being good, it was a mindset. There was no energy wasted that week. It was joyful. That mindset is what I am always aiming for. I know I can hit the golf shots, so it’s not about that, it’s about finding that total calmness on the golf course.
I can relate to Brooks Koepka when he said winning Majors are easier. I think 60 or 70 per cent of players are just focused on making the cut. You have people who qualified, who think I might never get back to the U.S. Open, or the Masters – I’m just happy to be here. If that’s already your focus, you are already limiting yourself. The ultimate goal is to win the tournament. That is why we are all here, you would think. But really there is only 20 or 30 per cent here to win. Some are afraid, some have other issues. If you have won a Major before, you create the belief. You don’t need to prove it to yourself. You just need to get your mindset in the right place and if the golf course suits you, you have a very good chance. Having the right mindset is hugely important at a place like Pebble Beach. You can use the beauty of the golf course to your advantage. If you just play the holes, it would be a shame. In the U.S. Open, or a Major, you think you need to do something special to win, but if you play your normal game you can do well.
My biggest mistake in golf was not giving myself credit for the success I had. I treated success and defeat almost the same. If I could give some advice to the Martin Kaymer of 2010, it would be to celebrate – whatever way that looks – my effort and my wins more. I had a hall of fame career by the age of 30, but I had no idea. You have to realise that to build on it and become even better. I wish I had understood how good I actually had become. You don’t just win two Majors by the age of 30. You don’t just become Number One in the world. That’s not normal. But for me it just felt like a normal part of the journey. If I could go back eight or nine years, I would tell myself to be more aware, to appreciate how good you are and understand what you have done. Thomas Bjørn actually said it to me once. We were on the ninth hole in Italy in 2015 in the pro-am. I hit a pitch and it went straight in the hole. A lucky one. Thomas came across and I said, ‘wow, how lucky was that?’. He said, ‘Martin, don’t forget how good you are’. Maybe he just threw it out there, but we do forget sometimes how good we are.