Steph Curry getting an invite into the Ellie Mae Classic certainly caused a stir amongst the golfing community, with a large number of players and people in the golf media predicting he wouldn't break 160 and most likely end in dead last.
When the invite was 1st announced and the Tweets began hitting my Twitter feed, I had a different opinion than most about what Steph was going to deliver come Game Day.
Over the past 5 years I have been a big supporter of the Golden State Warriors and during this time I have been able to get a little insight into why Steph Curry is regarded as one of the best players in the NBA.
If we go back to Steph's college days at Davidson he was told he would never become an impact player in the NBA because he was too short and just didn't have the physical presence necessary to be a dominant player in a league full of big, athletic ballers. Steph has turned himself into one of the most dominant players in the league over the past 7 years and I feel that a lot of the strengths he possesses as a basketballer, were going to be a perfect fit for his debut on the Web.com Tour.
His rounds of 74,74 (+4 both days) surprised a lot of people and Steph proved that he certainly can play the game at a high level, even though he missed the cut. Did I think Steph was going to contend or make the cut for that matter, no definitely not! But that had more to do with the high quality of golfer's competing on the Web.com Tour but I always thought Steph was going to put in a great showing and shock a lot of the doubter's about what numbers he would throw up.
But, why did I think that?
As a basketballer, Steph has shown a huge amount of Self Belief, Focus, Resilience, Fun and Competitiveness in his career and I thought these elements would help Steph a lot in the lead up to his debut, as well as during tournament week. I followed Steph's Social Media accounts very closely and monitored the language patterns that he was using in regards to his invite. It was easy to see that he was using all the right language patterns to help him manage pressure and expectations and not get caught up in the hysteria surrounding his debut.
To me there were 5 key reasons that Steph performed really well during his debut and something that I think all golfers could learn from in the lead up to our next competitive round-
1. Fun. Steph spoke about how he was looking forward to the experience and having fun competing with the Pro's. I personally think having fun is one of the keys to being able to perform at or near our best. Fun helps us to stay in the moment, helps us to not get too attached to poor shots or disappointments during a round, processes which I sure you will agree, are crucial to helping us perform well.
2. Manage Expectations. Steph did a great job of managing pressure and expectations in the lead up and during the event. This is where he used a bit of humour and self deprecation as he spoke about just wanting to keep the ball pout of the gallery and not go full Happy Gilmore during his 1st round. He never spoke about having an expectation on his result, not once! He spoke about having an expectation of enjoying the opportunity to compete with the Pro's and see where his game is at under a professional environment. A lot of Steph's talk about his expectations were completely based on doing his best and just going out there to play with freedom and to completely enjoy the challenge.
3. Confidence & Self Belief. Steph has always had a ridiculous amount of confidence and self belief in anything he puts his mind too. His expectations for his debut were very realistic, which helped him to stay confident that he could perform to his expectations. Being realistic helps the athlete to perform with more freedom, as they are comfortable and confident with what their expectations are, as well as being focused on specific processes they have control over, not an end result. I think Steph did a great job of this with his Web.com debut and seemed to really enjoy the entire experience at the Ellie Mae Classic, never taking himself or the situation too seriously.
4. Competitiveness. Steph's competitiveness was evident early in Rnd 1, with a fist pump on the 2nd hole of the day where he made Par. He was celebrating all the small little victories during a round of golf, for example a Par saving putt, a nicely executed approach shot and even a few birdies. This constant celebration and acknowledgement of all the small wins that happen during a round of golf help to keep you in a competitive, motivated state. Obviously Steph has a background in extremely competitive sporting environments, so it wasn't too tough for him to trigger this at the Ellie Mae. Club golfers (Myself included) at times just look forward to playing golf, some days not really caring about what happens, as they are just looking forward to getting out on course and enjoying the round. Their competitiveness isn't triggered to a high level and in turn, their focus wont be anywhere near as sharp as it is when they are in a highly competitive mindset.
5. LOCK IN! Lock In is Steph's mantra before every single game he plays! On his Twitter feed, he tweets LOCK IN which is his time to fully switch his focus on and block out everything that is happening outside of the game he is just about to play! I have no doubt Steph used this mantra before he went out in Round 1 and activated a high level of focus for every shot. This is a skill all club golfers can benefit from, as for most people, life is very busy with a thousand things fighting for their minds attention, being able to LOCK IN when you get to the golf course and just focus completely on the round of golf you are about to play will help all golfers consistently perform at a higher level.
I think these 5 key elements helped Steph to perform above most people's expectations, possibly even his own and I would encourage all of you to focus on implementing the above 5 keys into your next competitive round. If you can successfully implement these keys, you will improve both your performance and enjoyment for the game.