The Mental Game

Can’t seem to handle the pressure of a “fun” golf game? A PGA TOUR president has some thoughts.

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The first thing buzzing in your head is the mere fact that the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the world’s most difficult golf courses. Your anxiety amps up more as you contemplate what awaits you: the 17th hole, known as the “Island Green,” which is almost completely surrounded by water. Even champions have choked there.

The reality is, the 17th is a short par 3, a mere 132 yards. But between the tee and the green is all that water—not to mention the hype and history of the course, and the fact that 100,000 golf balls are pulled out of that water each year.

Fortunately, on this day, we have a helpful expert with us: Alexandra “Alex” Baldwin, who made golf history as the first female to lead one of the PGA TOUR’s six global Tours. In her view, she likens facing the 17th to some of the same mental challenges business leaders face frequently—and her advice might surprise you. “Don’t worry about the ball landing in the water,” she says. The critical step is to jump into the challenge without hesitation—and not overthink it. Or as she says, “Put a tee in the ground, take a deep breath, and swing.”


Alexandra “Alex” Baldwin, the first female to lead one of the PGA TOUR’s six global Tours.

Of all the sports out there, the challenges in golf may be the easiest to compare to those of the corporate world. Instead of just pure physicality, golfers need to deal with a host of head games and pressures as they line up those 10-foot putts or take on a hole surrounded by water.

Although not a professional golfer herself, Baldwin has been in and around the golf world throughout her varied and very successful career. During the recent launch of the new Korn Ferry Tour, a yearly series of golf tournaments for rising PGA TOUR stars, Korn Ferry’s Chief Marketing Officer Jill Wiltfong sat down with Baldwin at this famed course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida—and chatted about the mental game.

Q ? What’s your mindset for playing a round of golf?

Baldwin ? I am competitive, so if I don’t play well, I can get frustrated. But you always have to remember why you’re playing. You’re playing because it’s fun. You’re playing because it’s a beautiful walk outdoors. You’re playing because you are in the company of others who are going to enrich your life, whether from a business perspective or a relationship perspective.

Q ? That helps because some rounds are going to be much better—or worse—than others. It’s all about being in the game.

Baldwin ? And I really think that we, as women, need to be out there. If you ask a man if he plays golf, the answer is of course he does. He could be a 20, 22, or even a 28 handicap, but there’s no hesitation in saying he’s a golfer. But often, if you ask a woman if she plays golf, her answer is, “Well, I’m not that good.” It’s always qualified with the level of play.

Q ? Your career path has taken you from agent to corporate sponsorships, back to agent, and then to the PGA TOUR. How has your mental game sharpened your edge as you’ve advanced in your career?

Baldwin ? If you had told me years ago what I’d be doing now, I never would have seen it. But there is certainly something to putting yourself out there. You have to keep moving forward. We each have a path, but it’s never a straight line. I’m a firm believer in taking risks. There’s nothing I love more than taking on a new challenge and a new opportunity. I have a constant need to build and grow and get ready for the next challenge.

Q ? So the next time you’re out on the course, what are you going to think about?

Baldwin ? I think about the conversations and interactions that happen on the golf course. Playing a round is a moment shared with someone. My favorite foursome bar none is my two kids and my husband and just getting out there together and playing nine holes.

(click the image below to enlarge)