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Why Did Kenny Perry Choke on The Masters?

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I feel sorry for Kenny Perry.

Not because he choked in the biggest tournament of his life - The Masters, which was won in a sudden death playoff by Angel Cabrera.

Not because he would have been the oldest Masters champion (at age 48).

Not even because he'll be replaying the 71st and 72nd holes in his mind for the rest of his life.

I feel sorry for Kenny Perry because it didn't have to be this way.

For the Faithful who've been reading the various incarnations of my blog since the 90's, you know that I not only work with entrepreneurs and business professionals who want to get rid of their head trash, I've also helped athletes and coaches who want to end the "choke" syndrome.

"Choke" is the most feared word in the athletes' locker room, because it speaks of defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory. Even the word suggests constriction, obstruction, not being able to swallow or breathe. (That's why I said Kenny choked "on" , not "at" The Masters.) Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to Kenny Perry at this year's Masters. Sadly, it was all too avoidable.

The choke syndrome shows up in sports for one powerful, hidden reason: because the athlete didn't give themselves permission to win. Yes, this lies primarily in the realm of head trash, because as Yogi Berra said, "90 percent of this game is half mental." That's why this phenomenon shows up far more often in the more cerebral sports like golf, basketball and skating, and less in adrenalin-driven sports like football, basketball and auto racing (where the athlete relies primarily on split-second reactions).

So why did the dreaded choke happen to Kenny Perry at the 2009 Masters? The simple answer is, because he was leading The Masters after 70 holes, Kenny Perry was out of his Familiar Zone.

Kenny, the affable Kentuckian, has been grinding it out on the tour for decades, always coming just thiiiiiiiiiiiis close. But he'd been at the top of the 2009 Masters leaderboard since the first round. As I watched the coverage on ESPN and CBS, I kept thinking: "Uh oh, he's out of his Familiar Zone."

What do I mean, being out of your Familiar Zone? You've heard of the "comfort zone", right? By definition, if you've never done something before, you're not familiar with it. That's why one of the success clichés I bust is that of the "comfort zone", because it doesn't exist.

Think about it: if you're holding yourself back from the success you're capable of - and you know it - that's not comfortable at all. But it is familiar.

So Kenny had, over the course of several decades, become familiar with coming close, but not closing the deal. Yet the amazing thing is not how rare, but how commonplace this really is. Make no mistake: the guys on the PGA Tour are as mentally tough as any pro athletes in any sport. But what's incredible is how many become unglued just when they're about to seal the deal.

Athletes who are not familiar with winning often "choke" for the precise reason that they're not familiar with winning. For my money, this is what separates champions like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player from the rest of the field - the fact that they not only feel familiar with leading on the world's biggest stages, they allow themselves to win when it really counts.

That's the hidden reason that, just when Kenny Perry held golf's most storied tournament in his grasp... he let it slip away like so much fairway bunker sand. And the title of 2009 Masters Champion went to the equally affable Argentinian Angel Cabrera.

Three things I would have advised Kenny to do to claim the victory he had worked so hard for - and that any of us can do to give ourselves permission to succeed:

1. Use Afformations .

When you ask Afformations - which are empowering questions like...

Why do I love winning?
Why do I accept the victory?
Why am I so comfortable being in the winner's circle?
Why do I have Permission to Succeed? automatically engage your brain's embedded presupposition factor to focus on why you are, in fact, allowed to succeed. It might sound crazy that you would need to give yourself permission to win, but ask Kenny how crazy it sounded at about 7 pm on Sunday.

Athletes and businesspeople alike have found that Afformations have helped them focus their minds and quiet their mind chatter, especially in the moment of truth. That might have been the most important club Kenny Perry could have pulled out of his bag on the 17th and 18th holes on Sunday at Augusta.

2. Find your Safe Havens.

A Safe Haven is a person who believes in you and reflects back to you what you're capable of, and still holds you accountable to your true potential. Two of Tiger's greatest secret weapons were his mom and dad, Kutilda and Earl Woods, who very literally gave young Tiger Woods not just permission to succeed, but permission to trounce his opponents.

Tiger has often said that his mom was, ironically, the one who instilled his famous killer instinct (did you see that stare he nailed Phil Mickelson with?) and told him, "When you are ahead, step on the throat of your opponent. Don't let him back in the game." I think he listened.

3. Find Your Because.

Tiger has transcended the game of golf not only because of his amazing abilities, but also because of his desire to pass along the love of the game to young people around the world. While Tigermania may not be what it used to be, he still inspires like few athletes in any sport.

Sometimes knowing that you're doing more than hitting a little white ball into a tin cup can put things into perspective. Kenny Perry is a truly likable, hard-working guy we'd all like to have a few beers with. He would have made a fantastic Masters champion for that very reason.

Kenny Perry, 2009 Masters runner-up, we salute you.

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Noah St. John, Ph.D. is the author of The Secret Code of Success: 7 Hidden Steps to More Wealth and Happiness (HarperCollins) and founder of

He helps people get rid of the "head trash" that's holding them back and enjoy more wealth, more freedom and more abundance in every area of life and business. For a free book excerpt, visit

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