Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

mental game

The mental-game trick Brooke Henderson uses under pressure

January 19, 2024

Cliff Hawkins

Brooke Henderson loves being the defending champion—especially during weeks like the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf Club. Though defending a title could sound like a daunting task to the rest of us, the 26-year-old Canadian can come into a title defense with confidence in part thanks to a mental skill she has honed: Finding things that could affect her negatively and changing her mind-set so that those things become positives. It’s a skill your game could benefit from, too.

Being the defending champion of any event comes with the pressure and expectation of doing it again. At a tour event, instead of arriving under the radar, there are posters of your face everywhere. Your schedule is busy with the responsibilities of being the defending champion, and you’re making time for media, which might affect your usual weekly routine. All of this can produce stress, and make it harder to perform.

"I just try to use these situations as kind of a challenge and just try to see it as fun and as exciting, and just try to challenge yourself to be your best in every moment and every shot, every hole,” Henderson said.

Getting to this point where she’s able to take potential stressors and turn them into useful motivation has taken work by Henderson.

"Maybe when I was younger I didn't really think about it too much. I was just going out and playing my game and as you are out here longer on tour, you kind of have more time to think about stuff, the consequences,” Henderson said. “So I feel like definitely the last few years especially, I've just tried to really stay positive and change things if they're affecting me negatively to change them to be a positive, just change my perspective a little bit, which obviously is always a work in progress, but I feel like I've done a pretty decent job with that.”

So instead of seeing her poster everywhere as something that could produce stress, like: I won here last year, people expect me to win here again. She sees only the positive, instead thinking along the lines of: I have won here before, I feel confident here.

Though amateurs play for much lower stakes than Henderson faces, the feelings of pressure and stress you experience on the golf course are still real. And Henderson’s strategy of shifting perspective can work for you, too.

"The ability to choose your attitude and perspective is essential for sustainable great performance. How you react and choose to interpret what happens is an important performance skill,” says Pia Nilsson, performance guru of Vision54. “We very often ask a player: What are you going to do about it?, when they start having excuses or blame something.”