I’m going to start by saying that of the sixty nine shots played by Jordan Spieth in the final round of the 146th open championship, the one I believe won it for him is probably not the one anyone else would pick!
The venue Royal Birkdale, the time 2.30pm, Sunday 23rd July and Jordan Spieth was starting his final round of the 2017 Open Championship. He was heading the leaderboard at -11, three shots ahead of his nearest rival and final group partner, fellow American Matt Kutchar.
After twelve holes the situation was still the same, both tied for the lead of the oldest and most coveted of the four major championships. All those who follow golf know what happened next. Spieth’s drive at the 13th went an incredible and almost unbelievable120 yards right, burying itself at the base of one of Royal Birkdale’s largest dunes. This, my friends, is the shot that won the Open.
This is probably going to require a bit of explaining! My theory is based on the latest research into the peak performing zone or flow. Flow is the term first coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience’ written in 1990. Flow is an extremely potent response to external events and requires an extraordinary set of signals. It is an altered state of awareness in which performance is powerfully enhanced.
There are many examples of the flow state in professional golf but my favourite is when Billy Mayfair shot 27 on the back nine in the final round of the Buick Open in 2001. He was quoted as saying that the holes looked the size of bathtubs, it felt like another part of him had taken over and all he had to do was to keep out of his way!
As a golfer myself with a handicap of 7, I vividly remember my own experience of flow when I shot my first sub seventy round in a weekly club competition. It lasted the whole round and I couldn’t stop smiling!
The flow state or zone is seen as something that just happens; that it can’t be planned. People just find themselves in it. But this is all changing... fast!
Since 1990 there has been a significant amount of research done on the flow state covering many aspects of peak performance in various sports, activities and industry/commerce, however for this article I just want to touch on the stages of flow and some triggers to flow.
Firstly, the flow state consists of four stages.
- Struggle, in which the conscious mind gets overloaded/overwhelmed with data. Internal/external stimuli. Cortisol, adrenalin and norepinephrine flood the system causing tension and frustration.
- Release, where we need to let go of the struggle. This is often best achieved by finding a distraction of some kind. Powerful neurochemicals are released including dopamine and endorphins that replace the stress hormones and create relaxation.
- Flow, the altered state of awareness, an incredibly powerful cocktail of neurochemicals are produced which induce this altered state of awareness. Our creativity/problem-solving abilities become heightened and our ability to achieve the impossible becomes possible! In flow, we experience the paradox of control i.e. having control where we should have none and a sense of controlling the uncontrollable.
- Recovery, where serotonin and oxytocin are released helping us to return to our normal state of consciousness.
Secondly, the triggers to flow primarily consist of external and internal triggers.
External triggers include:-
- Novelty (danger and opportunity).
- Unpredictability (you don’t know what’s going to happen next).
- Complexity (lots of information all at once).
- Deep embodiment (attempting to pay attention to all sensory inputs at once).
Internal triggers are those psychological strategies that drive attention into the ‘now’.
The primary ones are clear goals, immediate feedback and challenge/skills ratio (this is when there is a specific relationship between the difficulty of the task and our ability to perform it. Spieth was clearly up to the task! His skill level was high and the challenge level was clearly high!).
So my belief is that Spieth’s drive at the 13th was the culmination of his struggle phase. Most players would have ended up with at least a double and their struggle would have continued. Kuchar would have been two ahead and he would have ended up holding the claret jug aloft on the eighteenth green! Spieth though, found a way to make a shift either consciously or unconsciously, paving the way to accessing his flow state. And as we all know, what a flow state it was! He took a one shot penalty and dropped on the practice range, three iron short right, chip to eight feet and holed the putt for a bogey.
The next four holes will go down in Open history. 14th par three, 6 iron from 195yds to 4ft, birdie. 15th par five, driver, three wood from 256yds to 55ft and one putt, eagle. 16th par four, driver, eight iron from 153yds to 25ft, one putt, birdie. 17th par five, driver, laid up with eight iron, chip to 8ft and one putt, birdie.
That, my friends, is one of the finest examples of the peak performing state in golf you are ever likely to see. All triggered by the worst drive that Jordan Spieth has probably ever hit in his professional career.
Major institutions are currently conducting significant research into the flow state focusing on both sport and business. We are beginning to understand that flow is a product of radical neurochemical, neuroelectrical and neuroanatomical function. It is being demonstrated that this peak performance state does not have to be something that is accessed purely by chance but that now it can be trained for. And that is an exciting prospect for anyone who wants to maximise his or her potential.
Flow Peak Performance Academy runs individual and group peak performance flow programs for sports and business organisations! To find out more how accessing your peak performing flow state will help you, please contact Nick Lees at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)7411 944284.