This post is part one of a two part series on the mental side of golf. Be sure to check back next week for my review of “Master the Mental Game,” by Greg Liberto.
Earlier this week, I played in the 8th R. Jay Sigel Amateur Match Play Championship. Although I lost in the first round, it was an exciting opportunity and a great experience. I was matched against a young man who is a student athlete at the University of Virginia. Playing as a twosome we had plenty of time to speak about the game and competitive golf. I was curious to get his perspective on the college game and some of his experiences. I was surprised to find out that college golfers play in the spring and the fall. Also, because most of these players are very good, they also play in many of the prominent amateur championships during the summer. So, competitive golf is more or less a part time job for these kids.
I asked him what the difference was at the college level between the good players and really good players. He thought for a moment, then stated that there are different reasons for the separation. He said some players have great short games, some are really long off the tee, and some make no mistakes. He continued to think about my question because a few holes later he brought the conversation up again, saying that the main difference is mental toughness. The best players rarely make more than a bogey. Even when they do, they bounce back and redeem themselves with birdie.
I think his answer was a good one. My personal observation is that most amateurs make very few birdies, so they can never truly recover their score when they make a mistake. If you have ever played competitive golf with really good players you learn that very quickly. There are a lot of great ball strikers out there. There are a lot of guys who have great short games or can putt lights out. There are few, however, that do all of those things really well in addition to grinding out pars and overcoming negative thoughts. Or, as Bobby Jones once famously said “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears”.
When we think of mentally tough golfers in the history of the game, two players come to mind; Tiger and Jack. They have both demonstrated time and again the ability to overcome adverse situations on the golf course. How many times has Tiger Woods made a putt to save a par, or made a birdie to win a golf tournament? How many times did Jack Nicklaus make a putt on the 18th hole? Or, better yet, did he ever miss one?
It is also easy to remember guys who were not mentally tough enough. John Daly comes to mind. He had all the talent in the world but didn’t seem to have the mental toughness to match.
What do you think about the mental side of the game?