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How Xander Schauffele’s Emotional Intelligence Helped Him Win the PGA Championship

The American golfer, Xander Schauffele won his first major, the coveted Wanamaker trophy at the PGA Championship. After winning Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2021, he has had multiple top 10 finishes at major championships but until May 2024, hasn’t been able to get one over the line. His recent triumph at Valhalla golf club was particularly impressive as he also recorded the lowest winning score in the history of major championships. As well as being a masterclass in shot-making, the victory also demonstrated his high levels of emotional intelligence.  

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions as well as understand and influence the emotions of others towards productive outcomes. A key part of emotional intelligence is the capacity to self-regulate under pressure and self-control is the emotional skill that enables us to do that and perform at our best. Schauffele exhibited this skill in abundance at Valhalla. At HeadCoach, we help you systematically develop self-control through our innovative mobile app.  

The other emotional intelligence skill that supported him on his route to victory was confidence. Solid confidence is the ability to trust yourself under pressure and execute what you know you are capable of. Confidence can be developed with practice and one of the best ways to do it is to take charge of your inner voice – your self-talk. 

Helpful self-talk is a powerful psychological tool that can significantly enhance confidence and in turn, performance. In the video below, you can hear how Schauffele used his self-talk to drive him towards success. Let’s look at how it works and why it’s effective: Click here to view video


  1. Boosts Confidence
  • Affirmations: Positive self-talk involves using affirmations, which are statements that reinforce belief in one’s abilities. By repeatedly telling yourself phrases like “I am capable,” “I am prepared,” and “I can do this,” athletes can build self-confidence. This increased self-belief helps them trust their skills and abilities, even in challenging situations. 
  • Manage Self-Doubt: Helfpul self-talk helps counteract negative thoughts and self-doubt. When athletes replace negative thoughts (e.g., “I can’t handle this pressure”) with positive ones (e.g., “I’ve trained for this, and I am ready”), they can maintain a more optimistic and confident mindset. 
  1. Enhances Focus
  • Directed Attention: Helpful and constructive self-talk helps athletes focus on the task at hand rather than on distractions or negative thoughts. Phrases like “Stay focused” or “One step at a time” can help athletes concentrate on their performance, leading to better outcomes. 
  • Present Moment: By using self-talk to remind yourself to stay in the present moment, performers can avoid becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event or the pressure. This can help them execute their skills more effectively. 
  1. Improves Stress Management
  • Calmness Under Pressure: Helpful self-talk can help performers manage stress and anxiety by providing a sense of control. Statements like “I can handle this” or “Breathe and stay calm” can reduce physiological symptoms of stress, such as increased heart rate and muscle tension.  
  1. Enhances Motivation and Persistence
  • Encouragement: Self-talk can serve as a form of internal encouragement. Phrases like “Keep pushing” or “You’ve got this” can motivate athletes to persevere through difficult moments and maintain their effort levels. 
  • Resilience: Positive self-talk fosters resilience by helping athletes bounce back from mistakes and setbacks. By reminding themselves that errors are part of the learning process (e.g., “Mistakes happen, learn and move on”), athletes can maintain their confidence and continue to strive for their goals. 
  1. Reinforces Skill Development and Execution
  • Skill Reinforcement: Self-talk can reinforce specific skills and techniques. For example, a golfer might use self-talk to remind themselves of a specific part of their swing (e.g., “Commit to your shot”). This can lead to more consistent and effective execution of swings under pressure. 
  • Preparation: Positive self-talk can also serve as a mental rehearsal, where athletes visualize successful performance and use affirmations to reinforce their preparation (e.g., “I’ve practiced this countless times, I am ready”). 

Practical Tips for Using Helpful Self-Talk 

  • Personalized Phrases: Athletes should develop personalized self-talk phrases that resonate with them and address their specific needs and challenges. 
  • Consistency: Regularly practicing self-talk, both in training and competition, helps ingrain it as a habit. 
  • Awareness: Athletes should become aware of their internal dialogue and consciously replace unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones. 
  • Visualization: Combining helpful self-talk with visualization techniques can enhance its effectiveness by creating a mental image of successful performance. 

As Schauffele powerfully demonstrated, incorporating helpful self-talk into your routine can lead to significant improvements in confidence, focus, stress management, motivation, wellbeing and overall performance. By consistently deploying this skill, athletes can better navigate high-pressure situations and achieve their full potential. If you are interested in improving your self-talk, enhancing confidence and becoming a better version of yourself, check out HeadCoach in the app store and claim your free 30-day trial.  

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