They say that the difference between the top sports stars and those at an amateur or semi-amateur level is the mental game. When you think of some sports like soccer or golf, you may know someone who you think could perform at the highest level. In my Sunday league football team, there was one player who could run rings around everyone, if there was a dead ball situation he would always score, always, it felt like cheating when he was on our team. Yet we all wondered why was he still playing with our team if he was so good. The answer was mental ability. While he could perform on a pitch without any crowds and playing with a few of his mates; when he had his chance he choked. That is the difference between the top athletes and the rest of the pack. Top athletes rarely choke. The word rarely is key though as sometimes even the best falter. Here are some of the greatest chokes at the highest level.
Steven Gerrard, 2014
Liverpool FC is a football club with an incredible history. Before the premiership era of football, they were the most successful team in the history of the sport. Yet when the English League became the Premiership it coincided with a dip in form for the club. Since the 1989/1990 season, Liverpool had failed to win the main prize in English football. With each year the pressure grew further. However, in 2013-2014 it looked as if Liverpool could finally win the league again.
The team defeated the main rivals for the trophy 3-2 that season. Gerrard the captain took the team to one side during the game and formed a huddle. He told his team “we do not let this slip” meaning that they will not let this amazing chance of winning the league disappear. The team was five points clear with three games to go. They had to face Chelsea and were in such form that most pundits thought it would be a good win for the Liverpool side.
In the dying moments, Gerrard’s words came back to haunt him. While trying to play a routine back pace he slipped, fell, and a Chelsea player was able to steal the ball and saunter through to score a goal. Liverpool effectively lost the title that day. In 2019-2020 Liverpool finally got the league title that they so desperately dreamed of.
Greg Norman, 1996
Norman is an exceptional golfer and deserves many more wins to his name than he has. In 1996 Norman was leading the Masters by six shots going into the final round. On the ninth hole, he scuppered a shot slightly and the ball rolled thirty yards away from the hole. It appeared luck was not on his side. He went on to get a bogey on that hole and the next three. In a meltdown of 20 minutes, he lost six shots. He would end up losing the masters by five.
Jean Van de Velde, 1999
If Norman’s meltdown is shocking it is nothing compared to Van de Velde in 1999. The player was on the final hole of the final round of the tournament and was leading by three shots. If he won it would be the first Frenchman to win the British Open since 1907. Van de Velde had clearly been playing well so felt comfortable taking a risky drive on the tee. It didn’t work and ended in the rough. He could have played it safely back onto the fairway but instead chose to aim for the green with a short iron. It didn’t work and ended in the deeper rough. He again could have played it safe and put it on the fairway but instead tried a risky shot. It didn’t work and ended in a small river! Van de Velde ended in a playoff and went on to lose.