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How to Win

Process vs. Product

“Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.”  ~ Bobby Jones

If you could have a front-row seat for any sports event in the world, what would it be?

Perhaps on a hair-raising stretch of a downhill ski race? Or at a World Cup soccer match?

For me, the answer is easy: I would love to be front-row center on the 17th hole at this week’s Players Championship. Nothing matches it for mind-body drama.

In case you’re not familiar with the hole, it’s the famous Island Green at the Sawgrass golf course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Except for a small access path, the green is surrounded by water.

That means when a golfer tees off, his shot will land either on dry land or in water — no in-between. No matter how well a golfer is playing through the first 16 holes, the challenge of the 17th hole awaits near the end of every round.

“It is like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal,” says golfer Mark Calcavecchia. “You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you’ve got to get to it.”

The challenge is mental.

First, even though, as Calcavecchia says, sooner or later you must get to the 17th, you must concentrate on each of the first 16 holes. You must stay in the moment and ignore everything except the shot you’re hitting.

Second, when you finally reach the 17th, you must forget about what MIGHT happen to the ball and instead concentrate on HITTING the ball. It’s a classic case of PROCESS vs. PRODUCT.

The product is the goal; the process is what you’re doing to reach the goal. In the case of the Island Green, that means selecting the right club, then trusting your swing. The more you worry about going into the water, the more likely you will do so!

“The hardest thing about that hole is that you need to be committed on the shot and you know you can’t really hit a poor shot and get away with it,” says Tiger Woods.

Of course, the product-process idea comes into play in every sport. For instance, if you’re a quarterback with only two minutes left in the game, you can’t dwell on the clock. You must concentrate on making good passes. If you’re a baseball player whose team desperately needs a hit, you can’t concentrate on the situation. You must concentrate on seeing the ball.

No matter what your sport, you must concentrate on process, not product!

This week’s golf drama begins on Thursday and continues through Sunday. You can see it all on NBC.


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