with Robert Bicknell
There have long been jokes and anecdotes comparing golfers to other athletes, mostly claims that golfers are more intelligent, wealthier and more refined. Yes, the jokes also include the fact that golfers have smaller balls, but we won't get into that in this column.
Well, it seems that a few sports psychologists agree with this belief and claim that golfers have the best memories of all professional sports people and, judging from the way players have recounted their rounds to me in the clubhouse - shot by agonizing shot, I'd have to agree with this theory.
Supposedly, a combination of their visualization techniques and the uniqueness of each shot they play contributes to their elephantine memories, said Dr Joel Fish, the director of the Centre for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia.
Golfers unknowingly file each shot into their memory banks to be accessed for future reference when they are faced with a similar situation and, in golf, this happens more often than you realize. Each shot is unique, whether involving distance, approach, wind speed or slope.
Moreover, they get a long time to consider how to play the shot, unlike most other sports people who have to make an instant decision. Yes, in golf, nobody is shooting a puck at you, or trying to run over you. Nor do you have to run and hit a screaming baseline return.
Ernie Els, winner of two US and British Open championships claimed he remembered every shot he made in those events. Luke Donald said he has trouble remembering things outside of golf, but when it comes to things on the course, he has no problem remembering it.
Personally, I think a lot of this has to do with the amount of time you have available to consider the situation and the upcoming shot.
However, Matt Kuchar dismissed the idea that he recalls all his shots and maintains he plays 'more in the present' than the past. This might also be the reason why he hasn't won more on Tour.
Yet, Alan Goldberg, a sports psychologist from Amherst, Massachusetts claims that it's best to rely on the unconscious memory (the hindbrain) instead of the forebrain (conscious thought) because of the risk of performance anxiety.
'Think of them as two different-caliber golfers," he said. "The hindbrain is a pro, excellent technique and timing. The front brain is a hacker. If you gave the front brain a golf club, it wouldn't know what end to hold.'
In short, he's saying "don't think too much…"
Golf teaching professionals believe that, under pressure, golfers can quickly reveal their shortcomings. They go through so many processes in their heads that they forget about one key bit of information that could have saved a shot.
Matt Kuchar, said his memory is far from perfect, which he regards as beneficial to his play: 'I get up in a press conference after a round, and a guy asks me what I did on 15, and I can't remember what 15 is. I just try to play the shot in front of me. I'm much more in the present than the past.'
Which leads me to remember an old saying: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."
I have to agree with Dr Fish because, having played golf since I was five years old, I have found myself in situations where the conditions and circumstances were the same as one before. This gives me some confidence in hitting the shot because I have done it before.
The biggest truism about golf is that the most important six-inches are the ones between your ears. You mostly play golf in your mind. It game is only 20 per cent physical and requires the player to visualize the shot before executing it. If you can see what you want to do clearly and have solid fundamentals, there is a good chance you'll pull it off somewhat successfully.
You cannot fully commit to hitting a shot without knowing exactly what result you expect, or having hit that shot before - either in practice of competition. Experience and confidence go a long way in producing a good round of golf.
Of course, golf has a way of bringing us all back down to reality, but we'll remember the shot that killed us. — VNS