40-Day Business Leadership Peak Performance Programme Day 34: Choking

I want to share a story about world-champion golfer, Ian Baker-Finch (IBF) and nothing I am going to say here demeans Ian. Be clear that I am saying nothing about Ian that has not been said publicly in the press. And my comments are pure speculations on someone who followed Ian’s career from a distance; and having worked with a couple of golf pros; and what that means to you as a business leader.

Ian unfortunately is known for one of the longest losing streaks for a professional golfer.

Several years ago, I read an article claiming Ian Baker Finch showed up to play a major tournament.

Paraphrasing, the sports writer said there wasn’t a soul who didn’t sympathise with Ian Baker-Finch. Ian Baker-Finch is a good golfer who won 1991 British Open, New Zealand Open, the Australian Matchplay title, the Australian Masters, the Coolum Classic, the Vines Classic and the Ford Australian PGA titles.  But his performance in recent tournaments surely must be the saddest decline ever of a tournament golfer.

But the sports writer said he had received a note from IBF saying, “Look forward to seeing you at the Open.” The writer’s reaction was – by anyone’s judgement except his own – IBF’s game was terminally past that tournament level.

He reports that IBF arrived and then went through a torturous umming and aahing process trying to decide if he would play or not.

People wished him luck and offered words of encouragement but on this occasion, IBF scored an humiliating 21-over par score of 92.

The author concludes: “Please, IBF, don’t put yourself through such horrid torment ever again. Design golf courses, work on television, do anything else associated with the game you love so dearly. But abandon tournaments forever. No matter what, you’ll always be a British Open Champion. The ordinary golfer cannot comprehend the cruel twists that can occur in the minds of unlucky ones like IBF.”

The key is: it only ever happens in tournament conditions.

It is worth rereading that last sentence again. What does that mean to you? Under tournament conditions? It appears his game fell apart under tournament conditions.

Golfers talk about the nerves, or torment, or whatever the demons are, becoming so oppressive they cannot even control their clubs.

To my knowledge the most common early signs are the ‘yips’ in the putting stroke, which can become so bad that simply moving the club face back from the ball in the striking action becomes difficulty. At this point golfers take remedial action. They get coaching or they switch to something like the controversial broomstick putter because they feel it offers more control and stability.

But IBF’s whole game appeared to collapse.

My golf pro complained that he could stand on the tee and drive the ball down the narrowest fairway. But if he had to make a simple wedge to the green he could miss the green left or right. He had no idea what could happen. He even made the remarkable disclosure that, given the utter hopelessness of the situation, he had on ocassions, shut his eyes on iron shots.

I know a lot of business leaders who figuratively shut their eyes on important business decisions.

The typical route for professional sports people is to seek help from a coach or a sports psychologist. Some even seek help from a neurologist and resort to MRI scans.

The writer concludes “As with IBF, the problems only seem to occur in that transition from practice … to tournament play.”

What I feel he is saying is: in theory people have a great game. But under tournament conditions their game falls apart. This is exactly how I describe many of my coaching clients. My golf pro can play a great practice game but his game was falling apart whenever a crowd was watching.

Someone once said that IBF should have gone back to playing smaller tournaments to get his form back but as far as I know, he didn’t appear to do so.

But my golf pro did exactly that. He took two steps backward in order to recover his confidence. He played several minor tournaments and then recovered his form and then began to move forward in the rankings again.

This is the very approach I use with clients. If you want a big result often the stress of going for that big result causes you to second guess yourself and lock up. Biologically, adrenaline and cortisol play a big factor in this. This is why a lot of sport people caught on to mindfulness techniques and why its catching on with business people. Mindfulness slows the game down.,

Today is again about pushing through comfort zones and shutting down your chatter. If you think today was about professional golfers you missed the point. This is about you. What can you learn about your performance from this story? Where do you need to get uncomfortable? What chatter do you need to push through. Where do you need to walk your talk?


That’s your homework. There is a lot in this session today so please make some time to reflect.


Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com

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It goes without saying that this is for information only and The Author or LinkedIn cannot be held responsible for any losses or damages that occur as a result of reading this material.

© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd


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