Teed Off (Oct. 13, 2013)
with Robert Bicknell
Imagine two players with pretty much the same skills, same handicap, same equipment, but one of them consistently wins tournaments and the other simply cannot perform. This is why we say the most important six-inches in golf is the space between your ears.
Being a professional for more than 35 years, I have heard the same complaint from members and even other professionals - "How did that guy beat me? I'm better than him!"
Well, maybe you have a better swing, more skills, a larger repertoire of shots in the bag, but the other guy has something that you don't have, and that is simply knowing "how" to win.
No, I am not talking about a strategically placed foot wedge, sandbagging or creative use of a scoring pencil. Its just that some guys, with a horrible swing just know how to score well. They don't go for the dramatic shot, they're not going to fire at a "sucker pin placement", these guys know when to "go for it" and when to lay back. They play the game in their mind as well as on the course.
Mental toughness is what allowed Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and even David Duval in his prime, walk all over the competition. They knew they could win every time they put on their spikes and headed for the first tee.
When I was much younger, I knew I could birdie every hole on the course - and it didn't matter which course. I knew that every hole was a possible birdie hole and if I walked away with par, I felt like a loser. While this attitude is typical of a young, brash player with a lot of game, it isn't completely realistic. I'd shoot a 65, and then be irritated it wasn't a 64.
This is a great way to drive yourself nuts, or worse, make you begin to doubt your abilities. The moment doubt creeps in, your game is headed for the rocks and this is where "slumps" begin.
I have seen many amateurs and professionals tear apart their swing and rebuild it, simply because they thought they couldn't win with it anymore, when in truth, it was their head which needed re-alignment and not their technique.
The truth of the matter is that you can play exactly the same on two days and have wildly different scores. That's golf. The trick is to make sure those scores are not ridiculously different.
Some players take it to the point where, when they wake up if they shot a great score the day before, they will have the exact same breakfast and the exact same time. They will put on their clothes in the exact same way, drive to the course at the exact same time and route and prepare the exact same way.
This is another way to drive yourself nuts.
While what you eat "can" have an effect on your performance, taking it to that level is a bit much. However, people are creatures of habit. They take comfort in it and it helps to settle them down. Every man feels more relaxed after he finishes shaving in the morning because it's a comforting ritual.
Practicing before a round is another important aspect of winning and losing.
Some players will try to hit the same shots they did the day before, while more experienced players will hit a few shots, assess the results and accept the fact that "this is the swing I am going with today".
If you're normally a draw ball (right to left arc on the ball for a right-handed player) player, and every shot on the range is fading (drifting left to right) consistently, the better players don't try to drive themselves nuts trying to fix it right before the round. Instead they go with it and air a bit left of their target. If the ball flight starts to revert to normal during the round, they recognize and go with it.
Each golf course and each day places a challenge in front of us. How we deal with it is what determines if we will be successful or not. The winners are the ones who understand this.
One day at a time, one round at a time, one hole at a time, one stroke at a time. — VNS