Dr. Rob Bell is one of our favorites. He’s a sports psychologist who has worked with three PGA Tour winners to improve their approach, mindset and performance. What we love most about DRB is that he believes deeply in the power of learning from every experience, even the small stuff, and turning negatives into positives. In his newest book, “Puke & Rally,” Dr. Bell talks about the importance of failure and adversity in making us better people.
Dr. Bell agreed to let us publish an excerpt from “Puke & Rally,” which is available now.
In 2015, Jordan Spieth had an epic year as he won a total of five events. He won two PGA Tour events and two majors, including the Masters and U.S. Open. He became the second-youngest player ever to win the Masters, and in doing so he tied Tiger Woods’ scoring record. His fifth victory of the season was the Tour Championship.
He was the PGA Tour player of the year and became the number 1 ranked golfer in the world.
In 2016, Jordan Spieth continued his dominance and won the first PGA tournament of the year, the Tournament of Champions. He won the tournament by 8 shots.
At the Masters in 2016, as the defending champion, he entered the final round with the lead. During the front nine holes at Augusta National, he made four straight birdies with no bogeys and extended his lead to five shots.
He had a five-shot lead with nine holes to play.
There is a popular saying in golf that the Masters does not actually begin until the back nine on Sunday. Many players throughout history have had difficult finishes to the Masters, which did not allow them to win.
But this situation was different. Spieth had experience and previous success in these situations many times before. He had the best short game in the tournament and was in complete control.
Golf writers had already started penning their narrative, but no one could have predicted what occurred next. Golf is fickle, and even professional players are one shot away from believing that they are the best, but also one shot away from thinking they are the worst.
Jordan Spieth made back-to-back bogeys at holes 10 and 11. But he still held a comfortable lead. As he stood on the tee box at the par-3 12th hole, he knew what he wanted and needed to do, which was to hit it on the green.
The 12th hole is the most famous hole at the Masters. Framed pictures adorning walls in people’s homes have this hole as the centerpiece. There is a creek in front of the hole and three bunkers surrounding the green that serve as its defense.
During the first three rounds of the tournament, the scoring at the twelfth hole is average. However, during the final round, it becomes one of the toughest scoring holes. It’s still a straightforward shot, except the situation, wind, and trouble surrounding the Sunday hole placement make it crucial.
Jordan unfortunately hit a poor shot with his 9-iron and admitted later that he took a quick swing. His ball found the water short of the green.
Since he had a five-shot lead starting the back nine, if he could have finished the twelfth hole with a double-bogey, he still would have remained in the lead.
But what sometimes takes place when pressure mounts, a mistake occurs, and people are in the toughest of spots is that additional errors can happen.
Spieth then hit another poor shot, and again landed it in the water. He took a quadruple-bogey seven on the hole. It was his first quadruple bogey in professional competition.
His mental toughness was still evident and he rebounded and birdied the 13th and 15th holes and still shot 2 under par for the rest of his round. However, the gap was too much to overcome and he finished second.
So, how did this lapse and ultimate collapse happen to the world’s best golfer?
All performers have an optimal range of arousal under pressure. When arousal gets too high, however, it turns into anxiety. The anxiety during a performance can cause some mistakes, but there can be an extreme drop-off in performance or even a catastrophe.
Under extreme pressure, with a high reward riding on the outcome, performance does not follow a path of slow decline or fade. There is an extreme drop-off in performance.
The “catastrophe” is caused by one error or mistake, which leads to a complete drop-off, meltdown, or collapse.
Just one mistake from the world’s greatest athletes in high-pressure situations can cause a collapse. They may start to think too much, focus on the wrong cues, and actually feel the anxiety in their body. It causes them to experience another mistake and another, just like a ball rolling down a hill. It’s a negative cycle and happens quickly.
If you have ever taken an important test and were stumped on an early question, it may have caused your anxiety to spike, which led to doubt and a slight panic in your system. The panic at that moment had the potential to cause an extreme drop in your confidence and performance on that test.
It happens in all sports. It occurs in all of life.
A catastrophe is what happened to Jordan Spieth. Here is the best in the world, a future Hall of Fame golfer, one of the most mentally tough performers, and a collapse happened.
It happens to everybody.
Jordan Spieth would rally!
Jordan Spieth had to endure and block out much criticism over the next season about his not winning the Masters. When there appears to be a kink in the hose of an athlete, the media pounces all over their fall from grace.
It’s crucial to understand the Reggie Jackson quote, “They don’t boo nobodies.” If you do anything worthy or significant, people around you will criticize you. The only way to avoid criticism is by not doing anything at all and stay on the sidelines of life.
Media was simply built on creating storylines and controlling the narrative of “Would Spieth ever bounce back?” Imagine that, all of the accomplishments and victories that he had and the negative headlines dominated the narrative.
When the 2017 Open Championship began at Royal Birkdale in England, Jordan Spieth simply was not really a favorite. However, he played well and even began the final round with a three-shot lead. Unfortunately, as golf can dictate, he started off poorly and made three bogeys in his first four holes. He three-putted the ninth green and his attitude was, “Hit it close, because my putter was failing me.”
He was still tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar on the 13th hole when another hinge moment occurred. Spieth hit his tee shot way right, over the fans, barely on the property!
Media quickly hopped on the theme that Spieth would repeat his unsuccessful performance at the Masters. Spieth had also grown tired from that narrative and used it instead to motivate himself after his wayward tee shot.
How the sequence of events unfolded was natural drama at its finest.
He had to take an unplayable lie, which not only cost him a shot but he was forced to take a drop before hitting his next shot. However, due to his position on the course, there was no good spot to drop the ball.
The cameras were showing exactly where he was on the course along with the rules officials discussing where he could drop. He was so far off line that he was literally next to all of the support trailers and the driving range.
It took him and his caddie, Michael Greller, almost 15 minutes before Spieth even attempted his next shot. After the deliberation, in a highly stressful environment, he hit his shot just short of the green and made an 8-footer to save bogey. Some bogeys are better than others in the difficult sport of golf, and this one was remarkable after everything that had transpired.
This setback served as the catalyst for the rest of his round.
Jordan Spieth proceeded to go birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie over the next four holes to win the British Open by three shots. It was simply amazing and one of the best finishes in any major championship.
He became the youngest American to win the Open Championship.
The calamity and suffering and puking that occurred at the Masters the year prior prepared him for the comeback to hold up the Claret Jug trophy.
It only takes one!