We all remember the Patrick Reed/ Rory McIlroy match during last years Ryder Cup. It was an epic battle of emotion by both players. Neither could gain an advantage over the other trough intimidation or brilliant play. Going on at the same time, was two wily veterans showing less emotion, but as much intensity for their game; of course that match was between Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia. In all cases, emotions were riding high and it seemed to propel these great players to new and more exciting emotional level for the fans. Both matches were awesome to watch!
I am wondering, does this type of emotion also help the average player or does it block their ability to perform?
For me, this answer to this question is not difficult to answer. Emotions are an important aspect of sports competition and to be successful, one must play with emotion. Preferable positive emotion, but that is entirely up to the individual; I have seen players perform extremely well either way.
However, (there is always a however 😉 ), there is one aspect of playing with emotion that most amateurs forget about and it is critical to low golf scores. Play with emotion, but keep your ability to think!
I know this sounds a bit crazy, but just think about it. Remember back to a time when you were emotionally charged, a positive result occurred when you stayed focused, could think and still control your actions. Reed, McIlroy, Mickelson, and Garcia were perfect examples of being able to think while emotionally charged.
This ability falls in the category of mental toughness. We have discussed this trait often at The Grateful Golfer and I think we can agree that mental toughness is a key component to great golf. When we stop thinking, we start losing.
I understand this concept from personal experiences over the years. The following was the first of my many learning moments over the years that demonstrates the direct correlation between thinking and emotions.
Back in the early 90s, I was playing in a Military Regional Competition just north of Toronto, Ontario. I was new to the competition stage and my mentor, Bob Fortune, told me before I started to play within myself and remained focused for the entire round. What he was really saying was keep the ability to think during all shots! At the time, I did not realize his message, but I sure do now.
I was standing the 179 yard, 6th hole, hitting the ball into the wind. I selected a 4-iron and hit a great shot. The ball landed 8 feet left and 3 feet short of the pin! Then something amazing happen; my ball shot directly towards the pin; hit it solidly, and fell into the hole for my first hole in one! My emotions went through the roof! I was jumping around, giving high-fives and smiling from ear to ear. My heart was pounding and all I could see was my ball dropping into the hole! It was an amazing feeling.
Unfortunately, I could not check my emotions, nor could I really think for the next 4 holes. I was even par after the hole-in-one and was walking on air. Well, my emotions came crashing to earth as I double bogeyed the next 4 holes. Standing standing 8 over on the 11th tee quickly changed my emotional state. My emotions had turned from elation to dread! What was I going to do?
I started to panic and worry about every shot. I lost confidence in my swing, even though not 5 holes before I hit the perfect shot, nothing seemed to work. My negative emotions prevented me from thinking straight and playing golf like I knew how! Well, I guess you know where this tale is going; at the end of the round I shot a smooth 17 over par 89! I walked off the 18th green dejected because I thought I had let my team down. As I recounted my story to the team, they all smiled and said, but you shot a hole-in-one; time to buy a round!
Afterwards, I discussed my emotional woes with Bob and he completely understood what I was talking about and, not surprisingly, recounted a similar story from his past. He explained that this was an outstanding learning moment and that next time I would be prepared to mentally handle the surge of emotions. Bob was right and now, I get excited, but keep a clear-headed and retain the ability to think during every shot.
Playing with emotions is important. It brings joy (and sorrow) to any sport, but is an intangible factor to success. In golf, being able to think clearly through the a haze of emotions is critical. Golf is both a mental and physical game, being in control of both for 18 holes can produce some amazing results.
When players discuss mental toughness, I think they really mean ‘the ability of a golfer to think’ during all situations! What do you think?
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!