10 Rules For Maximizing Your Competitiveness

November 2009

1. Focus on the little things. During my basketball career, I always told myself to focus on the little things because little things added up to big things. I equate making putts with making free throws, and my biggest mental challenge shooting free throws was in my second year, 1986, when I came back from a foot injury for the playoffs and had a 63-point game against Boston in the Garden. I had to make two free throws to send the game into overtime, and all I focused on was the basics -- I'm not gonna be short. I'm gonna extend and reach for the rim -- all the fundamentals that I had worked on at home and at practice for all those years. Golf is no different. Don't assume, for example, that any putt is good. Make sure you putt every three-footer with conviction.

And keep score every time you play. I do.

2. Have total confidence in what you can do. If you have 100 percent confidence that you can pull off a shot, most of the time you will. I'll never forget the time I was playing with Seve Ballesteros in Valencia [Spain]. It was just a fun round, but very competitive, of course. Seve misses a green, and his ball ends up right up against a tree. He has absolutely no backswing, and I'm thinking he's out of the hole. Next thing I know, Seve's on his knees with some kind of iron in his hands, and he's choking down all the way to the hosel. He chips this thing, and it bounces onto the green to a few feet, and he makes par. Unbelievable!

Tiger's the same way. One time we're at Isleworth playing for a little money, and he has me 1 down on the 17th hole, a par 5, and I'm getting a shot, so I think I'm in good shape. We get up to his ball, and he's 267 yards from the green, downhill lie, and he's in a divot. I'm thinking he's gotta lay up.

Not Tiger. He takes his 5-wood, puts it back in his stance and just wails it. The ball took off like a freakin' laser, right onto the green. The guy makes eagle, and I'm saying, "This is crazy."

But that's Tiger.

3. Don't think about the prize; think about the work. At my basketball camps every year, I award the kids shoes if they make a certain number of free throws or if they complete an around-the-world or something like that. But I always tell them that if they're thinking about the prize, they should be thinking about the work. Prepare, practice and perfect it. Do the work, and the prizes will come.

4. Keep it simple. There are a lot of correlations between basketball and golf, especially on the mental side. Whenever I played a big game, I tried to stick to things I knew I was capable of doing. I do the same in golf. I've seen Tiger hit that stinger, and I know it's doable for me, too, but it isn't a shot I've practiced much. Why would I try that in the heat of the moment?

My instructor, Ed Ibarguen, has me focus on a specific target before every swing. One of my biggest problems is, sometimes when I see water right I try extra hard to stay away from it. And what happens? You end up going right in the water. That's because you're focusing on the wrong thing.

Eddie tells me to pick a blade of grass on my line or a building in the distance and to blindfold myself to everything else. That's keeping it simple, and that works especially well in pressure situations.

5. Control your emotions until the round is over. Celebrating during a round can be a good thing if it inspires you to keep doing great things. But be careful not to overdo it. Sometimes, celebrating too much adds pressure and makes you feel like you've got to live up to it the rest of the round. Worse, your celebrating can motivate your opponent. My enjoyment doesn't come until the round is over. Most of the time, anyway.

When I made my first hole-in-one, last year at Turnberry near Miami, it lived up to expectations: After a hole-in-one, you don't really care about the rest of the round. It was a great shot, 205 yards into about a 30-mile-per-hour wind with a 3-wood. I hit it kind of low, but it never left the flag. Took a couple of checks and went in. It was an unbelievable feeling. But I probably shot 95 after that.

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