What golfing well says about you

As a coach and competitive player for over 20 years,

I can tell you that there are two types of heroes on the golf course. You are capable of being both kinds and occasionally at the same time. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a golfer make a fool of themselves. Oh and I’m not immune. 

When I was in my early twenties I was struggling with a massive hook. I weakened my grip. I swung as far right as possible. I tried to hold-off the face. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do. Still, I hooked badly. 

I threw such tantrums on the course that my friends finally suggested I stop playing until I figured it out. I think what they wanted to say was more like “hey, stop being a baby, you’re ruining our experience”.

I eventually worked it out though it took some time. I haven’t gotten upset about a bad shot since 2011. I know the date because that’s when I met the mental coach who changed my life, Jason Goldsmith. Subsequently, every lesson I’ve taught I’ve used a little of what I learned from Jason. But this isn’t a coaching email. 

This is about how your actions on the course will mold your partners perceptions of you as a person, a businessman, a partner, and a human. Specifically, I want to talk about what playing well says about you

There’s a possibility that it’s an ancient thing; something going on behind the scenes of cognitive thought, something we simply cannot avoid, a response to an action that is completely outside our prefrontal cortex and so, our ability to rationalize. If this is the case, it makes sense. 

Imagine you’re living in cave-man, hunter-gatherer times. You go out to hunt a bug furry animal that can potentially bring your entire clan enough food to last weeks. Through the tall, wind-swept grass, you spot the beast. He’s massive, resting in the weeds over the crest of a hill. One of the hunters in your clan is going to bring home the proverbial bacon – if they can aim true and sling the spear on-line. In this scene, the successful hunter is going to – 100% of the time – get the adoration of the entire clan. Men, women, and children will give thanks to the great hunter for providing sustenance. It’s easy to see that this type of adoration could naturally carry on into our modern heroes. 

Now imagine the last pro golf tournament you watched. Who won? Do you remember? If so, why do you remember? How do you feel about that player? If you saw them at the airport would you be in adoration? I bet you would. I would. And my cognitive, thinking, prefrontal cortex tells me they are no better than any other human, just a golfer who made it their life’s work to win. Still, I’m pretty confident my ancient brain would take over and have me tapping the shoulder of whomever was closest to me, “Hey, do you know who that is?” It’s Cam Smith” “He just won the Open Championship”. I’d feel a sense of pride in just recognizing the god of the golf world for a week in July. I bet you would too.

So, how does all this relate to your golf game? Does it simply say that if you don’t win you won’t be respected? Hardly. 

The two hero types on the golf course:

  1. The golfer who brings home the bacon.

  2. The golfer who plays with intent, acceptance, and honor, in all situations (sometimes including number one).

The first type or hero is obvious. If you can get to that point, I suggest doing it. Being the best player in a foursome or an entire professional field feels pretty damn good. I will say that on my way to the occasional ego boost of a win I spent a good 12 years of my life in complete isolation from friends, family, other hobbies, or anything that wasn’t directly related to my development as a tournament golfer. I’m not sure it’s the right path for everyone. The second hero takes literally no time; just a clear committed effort.

Hero Type Two 

Part One: Intent.

This is the hardest part for some golfers. The concept is simple: just ask yourself the question “what do I want?”. That’s it. Asking that question will spark an answer and that my friend is your intention. One quick note, negative answers are not intentions. So like, “I don’t want to mess up”, that’s not an intention. That’s more of an avoidance. An intention is more like “I want to hit a solid shot” or even stronger would be an image of a ball flying through the air with a little draw and landing exactly in the right spot on the fairway

So try that. Try to play each shot with intent.

Part Two: Acceptance of what happensespecially if it is not what you intend.

This is the part that can make you a hero. When a player goes into a shot with full intent and doesn’t pull it off, the outcome is often a beratement of themselves, their clubs, the course, and sometimes their playing partners. This is typically understood as “blame”. We’ve all been there and we definitely know someone who is regularly blaming some external factor on their poor performance. This is NOT heroic. This is a tantrum. Acceptance means allowing for mistakes or other outside factors that may keep the intention from coming to fruition.

Here’s an example of a tantrum.

Tom goes into a shot with an intention.

Tom shanks it into the lake.

Tom slams his club (to identify it as the culprit) and then points across the fairway at the cart driving away as if the cart is also to blame. 

Tom then tells his playing partners he’s going to take a free drop since the cart made noise in is swing. 

After the hole Tom tells his partners that he is trying out a new wedge and taking lessons and that’s why he shanked the ball. He goes on to say that at a “real” course the members would be more mindful about driving around recklessly why people are trying to play. 

Acceptance looks like this:

Tom goes into a shot with a clear intention (he may even speak the intention out loud). 

Tom shanks it in a lake.

Tom laughs and makes the comment, wow, wasn’t expecting that. 

Tom then grabs another ball, drops it, and then plays another shot (hopefully not a shank) and goes on with the hole and rest of the round never mentioning the shank again.

Be honest, who would you rather play with? I’ve been both people. You might be one or the other some of the time or possibly all the time… The point is, no matter what Tom eventually shoots, you’re likely not going to put him up on a pedestal. You may even despise him when he shoots a good score. 

Part Three: Honor. 

Honor is the simple one. It is, in fact, a function of acceptance. If one can accept an outcome that is not what was intended, they maintain a sense of calm in both success and failure. In that way their celebrations are more in the way of gratitude and less in the way of boastful exuberance. And in failure, these accepting players will gracefully shake the hand of the winner, having known the whole time (and having accepted beforehand) that losing was a possibility – and that that would be ok. 

Shoot. I said this was not going to be about coaching. 

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