Tiger’s Performance Mentality

I’m not a golfer, but like millions of others I was totally engrossed in the final day of the 2019 Masters tournament. It was an amazing thing to see Tiger Woods emerge victorious, a feat now widely regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport. As he was being interviewed in Augusta’s Butler Cabin directly after winning, I expected Tiger to talk extensively about his strategic approach for the final round and how he would need to play his “A-game” to win. Instead, he said this:

“I was just trying to plod my way around the golf course all day; just plod my way around…”(0.29)

I wouldn’t usually describe the talent, power and determination of Tiger Woods as “plodding”. When I think of plodding, it usually conjures up images of fatigue, lethargy, apathy or even incompetence.

In fact, a quick look at https://www.dictionary.com/ for plod (verb) gave me the following definition:

  • to walk heavily or move laboriously; trudge:to plod under the weight of a burden.
  • to proceed in a tediously slow manner: The play just plodded along in the second act.
  • to work with constant and monotonous perseverance; drudge.

If you saw the round, it was clear that Tiger was not trudging or moving laboriously, though one could certainly argue that he had constant and monotonous perseverance. However, I believe the “Tiger-plod” is actually more than that.

To be succinct, it is about being fully present with the process. He managed to stay completely in the moment throughout the round and was not distracted by what others were doing or what the eventual outcome would be. His round became its own universe, having nothing to do with his own expectations or those of others. Instead, his focus was on each step, each swing, each putt. Regardless of how good or bad each one was, there was no inner celebration, self-criticism or judgement. Instead, there was only acceptance of each moment as it unfolded. The only time when he may have been thinking ahead was when it was necessary to plan the next shot. By being in this Zen-like mindset, he was able to alleviate some (probably not all) of the pressure of the occasion and create a relaxed, inner stillness that made him feel like he was not working excessively hard either physically or mentally; only plodding.

In a fascinating interview where he discusses the 2019 Premiership title race, renowned sports psychologist Professor Steve Peters makes some observations that align well with Tiger’s plod mentality. He says this:

“For most people in sports psychology, we’d advise that you actually focus on just the process of what you are doing rather than an outcome and whether you are going to win or lose.

“That is the ideal because your maximum chance of getting somewhere is to just focus on the process and not the consequences.”

This mentality can be applied to many things, but one area where it has a direct parallel is in mitigating the potential anxiety of a musical performance. Making the assumption that you are fully prepared for the music you’re playing in a technical sense (which is of course essential), it’s often our “mental static” that can get in the way of performing at our highest level. We sometimes place huge expectations on ourselves, worry about what others might think and receive a battering from what can be the harshest and most destructive voice of all, the inner critic. We perhaps could alleviate much of this by not thinking too far ahead and staying completely in the moment of our performances, focusing on the process and not the outcome. In this way, we may see more of our inner Tiger emerge and have performances that are less anxious and are more consistent in producing our optimum level.