The mind is a beautiful thing. Physiologically, the brain is a coach, doing everything from keeping our hearts beating to directing complex movements. Psychologically, the brain is a composer, creating thoughts and storing experiences. For any athlete, the mind is at the core of performance—playing a lead role in everything from muscle memory to self-confidence.
In the game of golf, the mental side of the game is said to far outweigh the physical. Golfers spend hours on the course during competition, but only a minute fraction actually swinging the club. The rest of the time is spent pondering the next shot, the lie, the conditions; the list could go on forever. This process of mental preparation is positive in that it shows the player is engaged, but overthinking is often detrimental.
Just as the mind is beautiful and can be one’s greatest ally, it can turn into one’s biggest enemy. For Stanford junior golfer and 2012 Pac-12 Champion Andrew Yun, the mental approach to his game is paramount, although he disagrees with the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus, who once said golf was “90% mental and 10% physical,” on the percentage.
“My mental approach is extremely important,” the soft-spoken Yun said. “There’s a cliché in golf that says the game is 90 percent mental, and even though I don’t agree that it’s 90, it’s at least half. Once you get to a certain level, you’re capable of hitting all the shots that others are capable of hitting. At that point, it’s just a matter of consistently allowing yourself to hit those kind of shots.”
“It’s something we continually learn here in collegiate golf, but especially at Stanford because you have such high expectations of yourself and a lot of times that can be detrimental to your golf game. You expect so much out of yourself, and when you don’t achieve that, you get frustrated and your attitude is poor. Mentally, you’re not there and you’re not allowing yourself to play your best golf.”
But for the man the team now calls ‘Iceman’ because of his cool, collected on-course demeanor, the process of handling expectations has not come easy and is still a work in progress. Yun does believe, however, that he’s gradually improving his mental game, and he recalls an experience at the NCAA Regional his freshman year that changed everything.
“My freshman year, I came in playing pretty well and had high expectations,” Yun said. “When I starting playing tournaments, I started placing pressure on myself, and every time I hit a bad shot I would get disappointed because I knew that not only was I letting myself down, I was letting my team down as well. “Consequently, I would never finish that well. Then I remember the seniors on the team telling me: ‘Hey, just relax and don’t worry about us. Just go out there and worry about your own game. Just have fun. And when you do that, you’re going to help out the team.’ I remember them telling me that the morning before the final round, and I played really well that day. I went on to play really well at NCAAs and since then, I’ve been playing a lot better.”
The strategy has certainly worked for Yun, who has since become one of the greatest Stanford golfers of all time. The Tacoma, Wash., native has amassed 15 top-10 tournament finishes, two wins, two All-American honors and two Pac-12 first-team honors.
In 2012 Yun became the ninth Cardinal golfer to win the Pac-12 Championships. This season, Yun was the Pac-12 Men’s Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year and named a finalist for the prestigious Byron Nelson Award.
Despite all his accomplishments, Yun wants to be remembered for his character and not the success he accrued.
“The relationships that you make are going to last forever,” Yun said when asked what he’ll take away from his Stanford experience. “The results, accolades and all that stuff—it doesn’t necessarily stay with you. A lot of the times that’s not what people remember.
“People remember more about the person and who they were and what they stood for. Hopefully by the end of my career here at Stanford I’m not just recognized for what I’ve done on the golf course but for the person who I was. That’s something I would rather be remembered for, not just all the awards I’ve won or the stuff I’ve accomplished, because that’s what really makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Some of the tightest relationships Yun has formed are with his teammates, especially sophomore Patrick Rodgers and junior Cameron Wilson. All three are ranked in the top 50 in Golfweek’s Men’s Collegiate individual rankings and will lead Stanford into an NCAA Regional Tournament starting May 16.
Yun enjoys the camaraderie the trio share on and off the course. Yun, Rodgers and Wilson practice together, play together and even go out to eat together. Those experiences have helped them grow very close and allowed Yun to see firsthand all of the work that his teammates put in.
“I haven’t seen many people work as hard as Rodgers does,” Yun said, “and that’s something I really admire. Cam’s not any less of a hard worker, but I feel like the biggest difference of why he’s done so well this year compared to year’s past is his attitude. He has more confidence in his process and preparation—he knows exactly what works for him. He has that swagger, and that’s really cool to see. It’s something I know I lack right now and something I’d like to have. So just hanging out with these two guys and being around them, it’s good because it pushes me to improve on the stuff that I’m weak at or I lack.”
It’s that kind of attitude—intensity and focus in practice—that has vaulted Yun into stardom and caught the eye of Stanford men’s golf head coach Conrad Ray. Ray has seen firsthand how Yun has matured over the years, letting go of his worries about the day-to-day results and seeing the bigger, long-term picture.
“He’s been a senior leader for us this year and it’s been great to spend four years with him, seeing him mature in golf and his personality during his time at Stanford,” Ray said. “He’s been a great ambassador for our program. Andrew is very strong mentally and very even-keeled. He does a great job managing his emotions while on the course… There would be nothing better than for him to go out with a bang and lead the team to a championship this spring.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.