Jason Dufner’s maiden PGA Tour win last night got me thinking. It got me thinking about how top sportsmen respond to pressure. It also got me thinking if there really is anything to when the media talk about sportsmen “bottling” it under pressure.
I have a theory about when sportsmen lose when they should win. I don’t like to see it as bottling. Rather, I think it’s “learning to win”.
So let’s take Jason Dufner. He’s been in contention for some big tournaments before. Most famously, at last year’s US PGA Championship he held a 5 shot lead with 4 to play over Keegan Bradley. He ended up tied with Bradley and lost in a playoff.
Now the experts said he “threw away” the victory. But did he? Did he choke, bottle it, panic… Or was it part of the learning experience? Did he need that experience to figure out how to close out a tournament on the biggest stage of all?
The sportswriter Bill Simmons often talks about “reps”, short for repetitions. His theory is that NOTHING, not talent or will-power or coaching, can ever replace the value of experience. It’s an idea that was formalised in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, about sportsmen who achieve excellence through practice and experience.
So no, I don’t think Dufner was bottling it last year at The Highlands Course of the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia. Nor do I think he was bottling it last year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale when he finished tied for the lead at 18-under-par after 72 holes, before eventually losing in a playoff to Mark Wilson.
He was learning how to win.
Padriag Harrington had to learn how to win. Now he has three majors under his belt. Bubba has just learned how to win. Tiger just happened to know how to win. The rest of them will just have to learn too.
This is why I think Dufner’s win last night could be the first of many. He isn’t teeing it up at the Wells Fargo Championship this weekend, but I’ve circled his name on some of the bigger betting events next month. Watch out world, a very talented golfer now knows how to win.