After I missed a four-foot putt to win the Compaq Classic on the first hole of a playoff against Carlos Franco two weeks ago, I told my wife, Claudia, "I just threw up on myself." Carlos beat me on the next hole and won the tournament. I was the first to admit that I choked, but I don't use the c-word as a derogatory term about failure. If you haven't experienced an opportunity to succeed, you have never felt what people call choking.
What goes on inside when you're over a four-footer in front of thousands of people and a national TV audience? Nerves. An incredible adrenaline rush. You might not focus on the present. Your mind might drift. It happens to every athlete.
I recall when Payne Stewart, early in his career, finished second a lot more often than he won and the media called him Avis. How about all the times David Duval came up short before getting his first Tour victory? Were they choking? No. We Tour players knew how close they were to becoming big winners. In my first chance to win on Tour, I lost in a playoff after missing a three-foot putt on the second extra hole at the 1986 Bank of Boston Classic. Three years later I birdied the last two holes to win that tournament.
Why did I choke in the playoff at New Orleans? When I left my first putt short from 30 feet on the first extra hole, the crowd was going crazy. I was excited to knock it in, and a little voice said, "Go ahead." I knew I didn't have the focus I needed, yet I didn't back off. But never did I think I was going to miss.
Afterward I felt like I was shot full of holes and bleeding, but what happened in New Orleans is part of the game. All of life, really. During my wedding the pastor was saying, " Blaine McCallister, do you take Claudia to be your lawfully wedded wife, and—" and I blurted out, "I do." He whispered, " Blaine, I'm not finished yet." I told him, "You better get me now, I'm choking."