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Years ago, Yogi Berra offered us this piece of wisdom: “Half of the game is 90 percent mental.”
Maybe it’s even more than that. Teaching gurus, golf writers, sports announcers and coaches all expect us to assume they know all about the “mental game.” But do they?
Let me give you my take on such a complex topic. First of all, I don’t believe it’s really possible to compartmentalize the physical skill from the mental skill in any human endeavor. That would be like separating mind and body; or thought and spirit. The two are inexorably connected, whether it be for a concert violinist or a professional golfer.
Over 100 years ago, James Allen wrote the small but profound book “As A Man Thinketh” in which he explained that all of behavior, including perceived conditions in life, is connected to thought; and with the proper attitude anything is possible.
“Thought and character are one, and as character can only be manifest and discover itself through environment and circumstance, the outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state,” Allen counsels.
Folks, you can’t do golf all by yourself. The true mental game is knowing how to learn, how to think and how to practice. The brainy golfer is one who recognizes his shortcomings and is smart enough to ask for help, take lessons and get some feedback and advice.
The mentally competent golfer is also someone who sets specific goals for himself and keeps his expectations realistic. Goals and a plan: having a purpose and making plans. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. For example, a plan of action would be to add 20 yards to driving distance, to hit 60 percent of greens in regulation, to up sand saves to 2 out of 3 and to improve putting to less than 32 putts per round.
We don’t have the space here, but each of those major plans requires a detailed specific plan for how you’re going to accomplish those stats.
In the words of James Allen, “Until thought is linked with purpose there is no intelligent accomplishment … that strength can only be developed by effort and practice.”
A hundred years ago Allen seems to have put a pen to what we call the mental game: these are principles of total focus, lack of fear and systematic routine, methodological preparation with emotional resiliency, and today they still remain critical for success.
Coachability, constantly striving for improvement, a super-positive attitude and the heart of a champion will produce a winning performance, even when talent is seemingly underrated. And make no mistake growing mentally tough takes discipline.
Perhaps the most underestimated aspect of the mental game happens to be the ability and determination to bounce back (forward?) from a setback.
A setback may be anything from a score-ruining quadruple bogey in a tournament or a devastating loss in a match because of a stupid self-imploding brain-dead mistake.
Setbacks take all forms, even serious injury. Life is virtually guaranteed to be full of setbacks, losses and disappointments. The challenge is how we respond after we have suffered enough.
To respond successfully means to pick yourself up, forget the temporary painful moments and go out and perform stronger than ever the next time. Like war and peace. It’s called emotional resiliency; winners have it, losers don’t.
Truly, the most exceptional performers are absolutely fearless. There is no fear of failure – no fear of success. Still, there‘s more to self-confidence (which is learned and deliberate) than lack of fear, but it is required.
Take putting, for example. Young junior golfers who are grounded in solid skills and fundamentals are fearless on the putting green.
The older golfers get, after 40, nerves may creep into their game. Hogan, Snead, Watson and Miller all struggled with yips late in their careers.
As Allen writes, “He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure.”
Getting mentally tougher is easier than getting physically stronger. Trust me, I’m a doctor!
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed sports psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org