I hate the word Choke, but the reality is this, EVERYONE HAS CHOKED. Wait, not everyone, just those who have been successful. Jordan Spieth has won 2 majors and had yet to trail in The Masters in two years. You have to be in it to win it – No one in 35th place has ever choked.

So here’s how it happened~

Choking- Suboptimal performance given one’s skill level where incentives for optimal performance are at a maximum (Beilock & Carr, 2001).

This isn’t bad play or a slump but more of an event that takes place under high-pressure situations. Again, you have to be in it to win it.

There are a lot of theories about the anatomy of a choke. But this theory holds true time and time again.

Catastrophe Theory- All performers have an optimal range of arousal under pressure circumstances. Pressure is a privilege. When arousal gets too high, it turns into anxiety and then there can be an extreme drop-off in performance or a “catastrophe” (Hardy, 1990).

The catastrophe is caused by one error or mistake which leads to another and another, a complete drop-off, or meltdown. 

The catastrophe is what happened to Jordan Spieth.

Jordan Spieth, the defending Masters champion, made the turn at -7 at clicking on all cylinders making four straight birdies. He had a five (5) shot lead, Complete control!


Spieth bogeyed 10 as he entered Amen corner, and missed his par putt on 11. And then it happened; Catastrophe on 12.

There were tons of players this tournament that found the water on 12. However, the miss was BAD. The precision that it takes to execute under pressure at Amen corner is enough, but it also takes working memory, (the strategizing and decision making in real time). The working memory by Jordan Spieth on the Tee Box was completely occupied.

Not convinced? What followed after the tee shot in the water was unfortunately worse!  It was a bad decision that Jordan later admitted “not to use the drop zone”, but instead he dropped it in an awkward spot near 13. What followed was another ball in the water. The drop on 12.  Quadruple bogey.

All of us watching were in complete disbelief. The feeling that hit Jordan Spieth at that moment was more than likely complete numbness.  A fifteen minute span of what just happened?

(Read: What happens after the Big Loss)


He did show incredible mental toughness by bouncing back with birdies at 13 & 15 to finish second. However, the damage had already occurred. More so, only at The Masters does the defending champ (Spieth) have to put the green jacket on the winner. Can’t imagine Cam Newton handing Peyton Manning the Lombardi trophy at the Super Bowl.

Read: 3 ways to prevent the big meltdown.

 Choking is an event, not a person! Spieth does have proof that he can win majors because he has done it before. He indeed will recover from this event. But, no matter what the media pundits think or spout off, the only person that counts is the Man in the Arena. 


Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out the most recent book on Mental Toughness- Don’t Should on Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness