I was fascinated with the recent Ryder Cup. Watched way too much of it and lost a lot of sleep. But it was worth it – the last day was incredible and it might just be the best golf event staged. In fact, from the opening tee shot on Friday it was a must watch event for any serious golf fan. The performances, the atmosphere and the cliffhanger result were a promoter’s dream.

I’m sure the USA are still trying to work out how they lost. To be honest they didn’t do too much wrong. They played great (especially the first two days) but when things counted, Europe were just too good.

There’s a fine line between winning and losing. I think that the real reasons are beyond our understanding – and maybe we will never know why things happen. There’s also luck involved, a bounce here and there can have a huge say in the outcome. When it comes to luck you have to believe that it will even out – any other attitude will drive you straight to the nuthouse.

While it’s certain that we’ll never appreciate the pressure of the Ryder Cup, we can learn from what transpired. Here’s my between the lines look at the Ryder Cup and what you can learn from it. I’m calling it The Zen of Golf because I’m not sure how else to describe the ability to play sublimely when the pressure is on and you have an millions watching you.

Lesson #1: Focus on what you want

This seems obvious but from experience many struggle to do it. Our minds are loose and they wander off on all sorts of tangents.

“Don’t hit it in the water”
“Don’t come up short”
“Don’t choke”
“Don’t three putt”
“For God’s sake, don’t hit it in the trees”
“If I lose another hole I’m in all sorts of trouble”

These are just some of the kind of thoughts that we choose to focus on. A better approach is to ask yourself, “what do I want to do?”. This is the heart of positive thinking and gets your mind back on the job. You’re forced to choose an option and this gives your subconscious a clear plan. It’s being clear on your intention that helps you ignore the bad stuff and allows the ball to find the target more of the tome.

Lesson #2: Staying in the moment

This is related to #1. When the pressure is on it’s all too easy to get caught in the moment and get ahead of yourself. You start thinking about how many strokes your handicap will come down and you have the victory speech written. We all know what happens from here.

Playing yesterday with the biz partner I saw this first hand. He got off to a flyer, making pars and birdies on the front nine. He was on record pace and looking good (he was beating the pants off me!). But things changed. He got tight. He started missing shots. He worried about the pace of play. He started thinking too much and got away from a carefree attitude than worked so well early (by the way, on the front nine there was lots of chatting about business. This stopped on the back nine). The bad golf was enough to snap him out of the “stinking thinking” and he played the last 4 holes well. He managed a decent score but it could have been so much better if he hadn’t gotten ahead of himself.

How do you stay in the moment? Here’s a zen like approach to get you sorted. Not sure where I first read this, but I have seen it a few times and it works a treat. It will take some discipline (you have to remember to do it) as it’s easy to forget.

“What time is it?”

Your answer needs to be NOW. Now is in the moment.

“Where am I?”.

You’re HERE. Here is in the moment.

You’re not on the previous green or on the victory dais. You’re here and now. Perfectly in the moment.

Lesson #3: Play the game

No matter the pressure the game doesn’t change. A 3 footer on the last green for the win is still a three-footer. It’s still golf. And your ability to accept this will have a huge bearing on your ability to play your best golf.

Being careful and swinging “correctly” in the heat of battle rarely works. You get stiff, look awkward and almost always stuff up. You need to play freely and swing/chip/putt like you know you’re going to be successful. Following the advice from above helps, but you’re still going to need a fair injection of courage. It takes some guts to step up to the ball and strike it without fear of the possible consequences.

This is playing the game in its purest form. It allows your real talent to appear and minimises the chances of a poor result. That’s not to say you still won’t hit the odd bad shot, you only reduce the chances. But you’re able to accept any result and move on to the next. You’re continually in the moment and playing the game. It’s Zen Golf.

So just maybe the European’s did this a little better. We’ll probably never know for sure but they certainly were able to bring their best golf to the course on Sunday afternoon.

What are your thoughts? Why do you think Europe were able to beat the USA?