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Did Tiger Woods choke under pressure at PGA Championship?

August 12, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club on Friday in Johns Creek, Ga.
Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the second round of the… (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images )

When Tiger Woods missed the cut for the PGA Championship, was it because his head wasn't in the game?

How a player like Woods -- or Rory McIlroy or Steve Stricker -- decides to play, and to cope with the stress, may reveal much about his likelihood of choking, research indicates.

To study what happens when a golfer thrives -- or falters -- under pressure, a 2005 study in the journal the Sport Psychologist examined 18 of the best young male golfers in Ireland, and listed some of the symptoms associated with players who were winning and those who were losing.

The researchers found that effective coping strategies often involved "positive self-talk." But out on the course it sounded as if Woods was just becoming increasingly frustrated with his game.

"I’m really angry right now. There’s a lot of words I could use beyond that," Woods had said, according to the Washington Post, before he dropped out of the running. Not exactly the sound of positive self-encouragement.

The study also showed that following a routine and reappraising a changing situation are also keys to success under pressure.

But Woods, who had recently been recovering from injuries to his knee and Achilles' tendon, appeared to do the exact opposite: He abandoned the "mechanical" technique he'd been working on with his coach after his first few shots went well, and continued to try and "play by instinct" even though it became clear that this wasn't working.

It's those very behaviors -- changing well-practiced routines at game time and feeding negative thoughts -- that were identified as losing coping mechanisms in the paper.

The stress from high-pressure situations is thought to interrupt mental processes that are so practiced that they've become automatic. Bringing "higher" thought processes to overthink the situation may break that natural flow. Here's a few tips from the Scientific American on how to avoid choking under pressure.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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