April 04, 2012

Hunter Mahan and Jim Murphy: The Road to Success in 2012

When Hunter Mahan found himself near the top of the leaderboard at the Shell Houston Open on Saturday evening, it was no surprise to see him flesh out another victory on Sunday afternoon. A product of the increasingly popular Sean Foley Swing philosophy, Mahan is undoubtedly one of the most talented American players on tour, and his newfound status as the highest ranked player in America would serve to confirm that statement. What you might not know about Hunter is that he has been working extremely hard on developing his mental toughness with sports pscyhologist Jim Murphy. When quizzed about how he has improved his mental game, Mahan had the following to say:


HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I think I’m just tired of approaching my mental game the wrong way. I saw what I was doing before and it stunk. It wasn’t any fun. We play so many holes, play so many tournaments. It just doesn’t make sense to beat yourself up, you know, because the game is hard enough.


I made a change and was committed to doing it differently, and I started working with Jim Murphy and he’s helped a lot. He just brought some sort of positivity to me and gets me excited to play golf and excited to be in tough situations.


You got to enjoy this stuff. It’s kind of a — kind of an honor and a pleasure to be in these tough situations. This is what you work for, to be in these fun, tight, tense situations (Original Source:


JIM MURPHY’S INFLUENCE: While Mahan scratches the surface of what he and Murphy have been working on, I thought it worthwhile to do some research on the sports psychologist who is quite clearly improving Mahan’s mental toughness. This is what I’ve Found.



  • Why we fail
  • Getting nervous and caring too much
  • Why successful athletes succeed
  • Changing your perception of success



We fail because we obsess about the future and cannot be present in the moment. In our relentless pursuit we focus so much on achievement that we miss lessons along the way. We’re busy but not growing; accumulating knowledge but not wisdom.


Top performers show great propensity for creativity, which comes from periods of hard work mixed with times of rest and play. The very best have learned how to shut down their mind so they can think new thoughts instead of the repeating the same old ones every day (as most of us do). This is extremely difficult of course.


Ultimately, we fail because we fail to learn. We sweep the courtyard simply to get it done. We perform only to win the prize. We fail because we’ve grown so attached to what we want that we miss out on the crucial moments along the way.



“When the archer shoots for no particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass knuckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he goes blind, sees two targets, and is out of his mind. His skill has not changed, but the prize divides him. He thinks more of winning than of shooting, and the need to win drains him of  power.”- Tranxu, Chinese Sage (from the book Awareness, by Anthony De Mello)


Have you ever felt that the harder you try, the less effective you are?


It seems we’ve been told all our lives about hard work and persistence, and yet it lets us down. We want something with all our heart, but the more we desire it the farther away it seems to be. The problem is not the hard work or persistence, the problem is the attachment to what we want but can’t fully control.


“The biggest obstacle (to peak performance) for most performers, in my 30 years, is overanalysis–the tendency, for the right reasons, to start overanalyzing things, which interferes with having a total focus when performing. The second biggest obstacle is caring too much, getting almost obsessed with having to be successful–caring so much that it interferes.”- Cal Botterill, Ph.D. (from the book Inner Excellence)



There are a few characteristics that successful athletes and sports teams share. Athletes and teams that play with poise under pressure play from the heart, have an expansive vision, and learn how to be fully engaged in the moment. Extraordinary performance, Murphy believes, comes down to love, wisdom, and courage, respectively.


Extraordinary performers win because they focus on connecting with their true selves, not beating the other team. It’s probably the biggest mistake athletes and coaches make: trying to beat the other team instead of focusing on being their best selves each moment.



“Success is not one of my motives. Because success stands in contrast to failure. But no worthwhile effort in one’s life is either a success or failure.


What do you mean by success? You take a problem and you want to solve it. Well, if you solve it, in a limited sense it is a success. But it may be a trivial problem. So a judgment about success is not something about which I’ve ever been serious about in any sense whatever.”- Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Nobel laureate physicist (from the book Creativity, by M. Csikszentmihalyi)


The pursuit of success often leads to the fear of failure, largely because our definition of success is greatly influenced by the culture we live in. That’s partly why I am less concerned with success, as the physicist above, than I am with full engagement, resonance, and flow.


“We need a purpose beyond ourselves, otherwise life becomes all about self, which leads to continually trying to satisfy our own moods and desires and that constant pursuit of instant gratification can never be filled.


A purpose beyond yourself, however, leads to a unifying vision that compels you to seek out the best in others and best in yourself. To establish a purpose that is greater than yourself ask the following question: ‘What are you passionate about, that contributes something meaningful to the world, that you would be willing to do even if you were not a “success?”


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