'If you have 100 percent confidence that you can pull off a shot, most of the time you will.' -- Michael Jordan
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.
6. Use tough losses for motivation. Turning negatives into positives has always worked for me. I think back to when I was cut from my high school basketball team as a sophomore. That was the biggest disappointment of my sports career, but it only made me work harder.
When I was 12 years old, playing baseball, we had to play a three-game series against a team from Texas. If we win, we go to the Little League World Series. We lost the first game, 4-3, and the next game I pitched a two-hitter, but we lost, 1-0. Honestly, I wasn't that disappointed about the Little League thing, because getting that close to the World Series was quite an accomplishment. But all of the disappointments you have as a competitor can ultimately provide motivation to help you move up the ladder.
7. Competitors always want to have something riding on the outcome. It isn't the amount of money, it's something to keep the focus at its highest. Whenever I meet people, they always have this idea that I like to play for big money. My line is always: I play for whatever makes you nervous. That's enough to give me a competitive edge. It could be five dollars. It could be 10. It could be a shirt in the pro shop. It doesn't have to be for $500,000 or a million. Sometimes it might be enough if we're just playing for pride.
The first time I ever played with Tiger -- at Medinah, I think -- I was a little nervous. We had a little something riding on it, and obviously you're thinking he's probably analyzing your swing, and you aren't focused on what you're supposed to be doing. You aren't relaxed. So that's what I'm doing, and I shot 88. The next time, I say, "Look man, you killed me the last time we played. I shot 88. How many are you gonna give me today?" So he says, "I'll give you five a side." We're playing at my home course, which at the time was the Merit Club [outside Chicago]. This time I'm feeling pretty confident. No jitters. I know he isn't paying attention to me, so all I have to do is play my game. And I fleeced him. Beat the [crap] out of him. ... Actually he played pretty good. He shot 65 to tie the course record at the Merit Club.
But I shot 73.
8. I love trash-talking, and there's an art to turning it into a competitive edge. Trash-talking is a means of (1) giving you confidence, and (2) taking your opponent's mind off what he's trying to do and putting a little more pressure on him. I don't talk trash to demean people.
I don't talk about their parents or any of that. But I do love talking trash no matter who I'm playing. President Clinton is the only U.S. president I've played golf with, and I talked trash with him, too. Why wouldn't I? Talking trash, especially with someone like that, is giving him a better understanding of who I am. He wants to experience what it feels like to hang out with Michael Jordan, and that's me.
I enjoy moments like that. I love competitiveness. So why would I do anything less?
9. Nervousness is not a bad thing.I was nervous a lot of times before games. The key is, does that nervousness go away once the ball is thrown up because of your preparation and your routine. Once the game got started, I was back in my routine.
Golf can work the same way if you put in the work to prepare. Yeah, you're going to be nervous on the first tee, but all it takes is one good shot, and that nervousness goes away.
If you have doubts, nervousness will expose that. At some point you say, I know I can play this game. I'm gonna keep it simple. Fairways and greens. Make bogeys when I feel like I can't make a par.
He plays golf, and I played basketball. But he'll do anything to beat you.
One day we were playing with a friend of mine, Jacob Brumfield. He played pro baseball [with four major-league teams] in the '90s. Jacob was so trash-talking Tiger that when we got to the 18th hole, Tiger told him he'd play every shot on that hole from his knees and Jacob could play normal. Now that is confidence. That's the kind of stuff I'd do in basketball.
Understand that Jacob is a 3- or 4-handicap who drives it about 270. So Tiger got to tee it up for every shot on the 18th hole, but he played them all from his knees -- every shot! He tied Jacob on the hole with a bogey, but that was just as good as beating him.