Early Sunday morning tee-times on the PGA and Nationwide tours are usually devoid of large crowds, and prize money is largely pre-determined (Brown, 2007). While the top 15 golfers earn 70% of prize monies, the bottom positions split much smaller sums. In fact, there is not much deviation in prize money from 40th place and 60th place on Sunday. Please note that on the Nationwide tour in particular, the last place finisher will often lose money (expenses) after playing on the weekend! Add the drudgery of upcoming travel and next week’s tournament preparation and there is a noticeable difference of enthusiasm levels on early Sunday mornings.
Due to the final day pairings, there is often a solo player first to tee off and with no playing partners, nor slow play in front; the running joke is “how fast will he play?” A two-hour round in these circumstances is not uncommon. Last season, I was mired in conversation on the practice range with the first player off on Sunday. As we discussed the upcoming day, he replied “I have played long enough to know when to turn it on and grind it out.” Basically, today was not going to be that day. Light-switch mentality…
The light-switch mentality is analogous with complacency or “going through the motions.” It usually occurs when a player is out of contention or playing poorly. How one develops this mentality isn’t as important as recognizing how to get out of the mindset. Not committing to every shot in practice and competition will eventually lead to a lack of execution when needed most.
The margin between success and failure is so slim. For instance, in the last 25 years in major tournaments, the average margin of victory has been less than 3 strokes combined!!! At the professional level, everyone works hard, thus, players must be able to find small ways to maximize their potential. It begins by avoiding the “light-switch mentality” and consistently reinforcing quality practices and play.
Players have often told me that it is difficult to re-create feelings of pressure during practice. I agree; there IS a difference between practice and competition. There are also differences between practice rounds, Pro-Ams with no substantial outcome, and actual competition. Thus, within the original example above, there is a difference between a Sunday morning tee-time and actually being in contention on Sunday.
We can bear witness to the player above and maybe nod, notice the veteran experience level, and think “he’s right, it doesn’t really matter.” However, these are exactly the “light-switch” times that will infect one’s performance in the future. If the light-switch is constantly turned on, it will eventually lead to good outcomes.