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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Do You Need an Attitude Adjustment?

I know I can't ever seem to resist quoting Bobby Jones.  The reason, of course, is that with regard to virtually every subject related to golf he seemed, to me at least, to have said it best.  

Consider in part what Bobby had to say about adjusting your mental attitude in his book Golf is my Game.  This was written some ten or twelve years after he was forced to give up the game because of a crippling disease.  He wrote:

"The businessman golfer takes lessons and reads books; he imitates good players; he buys new clubs; he does everything he can to improve his swing, his shot-making ability.  But he overlooks one important feature: he doesn't ask himself often enough if he is scoring as well as he ought with his present ability.

In every club there is always at least one man who has the reputation of making a poor game go a long way, the man who seems always to beat a player a bit better than himself.  He doesn't do it by any divine inspiration, nor yet by any trick of fate.  He simply uses his head, analyzing each situation as it confronts him, always keeping in view his own limitations and power.  That is what we call judgement, and it is a lot easier to use good judgement than it is to learn to swing a club like Harry Vardon."

I think this is really the crux of the matter.  We can make all sorts of decisions about how me might, over time, improve our game.  We might commit to getting more fit.  We might undertake to practise more, or take lessons.  We might buy yet another putter, or driver.  But the real question is, are we playing as well as we should right now, with what we presently have to work with?  If we aren't using good judgement, and we don't have the proper attitude, the answer is obvious.

Bobby Jones, despite being a prodigious talent who burst on the American golf scene as a fourteen year old, had to learn some things and adjust his attitude before he played consistently great golf and became a steady winner of Major championships.  One of the things he needed to learn was that one can't expect perfection.  He wrote:

"The challenge of golf is well known.  But I feel that the average player sees the wide superiority of the expert and concludes that this is perfection.  Is it not better for him to realize that there is no such thing as perfection... Golf, in my view, is the most rewarding of all games because it possesses a very definite value as a moulder or developer of character.  The golfer very soon is made to realize that his most immediate, and perhaps his most potent, adversary is himself.  Even when confronting a human opponent, the most crucial factor is not the performance of the opposition, but the effect of this performance upon the player himself...

In my early years I think I must have been completely intolerant of anything less than absolute perfection in the playing of any shot...I habitually played every shot for its ultimate possibilities, regardless of risk.  This lack of discretion must have been fairly obvious; for Bill Fownes, the resourceful Pittsburgh amateur, once said to me, 'Bob, you've got to learn that the best shot possible is not always the best shot to play.'"

Bobby analyzed his game and came to understand that he needed to become less of a perfectionist.  He wrote:

"It took some doing, I'll admit, but it is a fact that I never did any amount of winning until I learned to adjust my ambitions to more reasonable prospects shot by shot, and to strive for a rate of performance that was consistently good and reliable, rather than placing my hopes upon the accomplishment of a series of brilliant sallies...

I finally arrived at a sort of measure of expectancy that in a season's play I could perform at my best rate for not over half-a-dozen rounds, and that in any of these best rounds I would not strike more than six shots, other than putts, exactly as intended.

If one should have confidence in such an appraisal, which I had, the following conclusions were inescapable:

1.  I must be prepared for the making of mistakes.
2.  I must try always to select the shot to be played and the manner of playing it so as to provide the widest possible margin for error.
3.  I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal.

The main point of all this for the play-for-fun golfer is to emphasize the importance even for him of adjusting his attitude towards the game before he goes out on the course.  Let him first divest himself of any thought that it may be unsportsmanlike or unworthy to prepare himself for the play as best he can.  There is no point in going out to play a game unless one has the desire to play well, and golf was not meant to be played impetuously; nor is one likely to exercise the needed restraint and self-discipline unless one has prepared oneself in advance.  You don't need to go into any ostentatious seclusion, but only quietly and within yourself, to get your mind on the game before you step on to the first tee."

I know I keep quoting Bobby Jones, but if ever there was a better summary of the attitude required to best play this game, I've certainly never read it.