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  • Alistair Tait

The Crushing Weight of Expectation

You have to marvel at elite professionals such as Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, Jack Nicklaus, Inbee Park, Ben Hogan, Juli Inkster and other multiple major winners. Imagine not only having to deal with trying to guide an often disobedient golf ball around green and pleasant places, but the weight of expectation too.

For many it can be crushing.

Think of the number of players who’ve won a major championships and never won another. I count 77 women classified as single major winners, and 146 men. Obviously many of these, – the likes of Cameron Smith, Jennifer Kupcho, Nelly Korda, Jon Rahm and such – have the chance to become multiple major winners. However, imagine the weight of expectation placed upon those who won once and never triumphed in another of the tournaments that really matter. And there are some impressive names amongst the ones and dones – David Duval, Michelle Wie, Tom Weiskopf, Beth Daniel, to name a select few.

How did players of the calibre of Duval and Wie only ever taste major victory once and never again? Bet it’s a question they and others sometimes ponder in quiet moments.

Of course, it’s not just major winners that suffer from the weight of expectation. There is a plethora of players who’ve won once on the European Tour or Ladies European Tour and never won again. They’ve suffered from the same weight of expectation as much as the one-time major champions.

Ditto for good amateur players, former club champions, who are expected to go to that so called next level. Most of us know someone who was earmarked for further success who has failed to progress in the professional game. How do they deal with not living up to expectations?

Not just internally, but externally too. Friends, family, golf club members naturally assume once they’ve won once, they’ll do so again, and again.

Golf doesn’t quite work like that.

I’m pondering the weight of expectation and its potential effect from after last week’s R&A Student Tour Series – Portugal at Troia Golf just south of Lisbon.

Stirling University student Lorna McClymont (pictured) took a five-shot lead into the final round of the third of five student tour events on the 2022/23 schedule. She was odds on to win her third straight following victories at Montrose and Le Golf National. She won four of the five played last year to win the order of merit at a canter. At world number 141, she was the highest ranked player in the field, and arrived in Portugal with a 110-point lead on the current order of merit.

She couldn’t miss, right? Wrong!

After rounds of 74 and 75, the affable sports studies student struggled to a closing 85 to finish joint fifth. Anyone who has played Troia will know how easy it is to run up a big score. For my money, it’s the hardest course I’ve ever experienced in Continental Europe. And I’ve never played it. Not sure I want to with a card and pencil in my hand.

As you can imagine, McClymont looked shellshocked immediately after the final round. She regained her composure later that evening and was fairly sanguine about her experience. At 22, the strong Scottish international, the reigning Irish Women’s and Girls Open Stroke Play champion, has been around long enough to know all about the capricious nature of this often insufferable game. She'll bounce back from her Troia trauma.

Did the weight of expectation contribute to McClymont’s score? After all, everyone, me included, expected her to kick on to victory. Only she will know.

Ironically, that closing 85 may turn out to be the most important round in McClymont’s golf career. It should reinforce what she has no doubt learned: nothing can be taken for granted in this game, the weight of expectation is a massive pressure, that old cliche about taking it one shot at a time has been around since Allan Robertson's day for good reason, and players often learn more from bad rounds than good ones.

Dealing with the weight of expectation is another of those intangible that separates good players from great players.

#JustSaying: “This game has made cry-babies out of all of us at one time or another.” Tom Kite

Photograph courtesy of the R&A

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