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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Arnold Palmer on the Mental Approach

The saying, " it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" really applies to golf.  Golf is one game where you have surprisingly little control over the outcome.  Sometimes you can seemingly do all the right things and nothing goes right.  Some days you just can't piddle a drop.  But how you respond to the bad times is very significant in your success as a golfer.

Consider what Arnold Palmer had to say in his book My Game and Yours:

    "When I walk up to the first tee on the first day of any tournament, the only thought in my head is to play every shot as well as I can, from beginning to end.  I keep in mind one of my father's sayings: 'If you don't birdie the first hole, you can't birdie them all.'
    I'm playing for that birdie on the first hole, and on the second and the third.  The thing is that I don't always get it: golf is that kind of game.  You are bound to have holes where nothing goes right, no matter how hard you try... You are bound to have days where nothing goes right on any of the eighteen holes.(I've shot as high as 86 in tournament play and Jack Nicklaus skied to an 83 in the 1981 British Open.)
    The trick when this happens is to stay serene.  The whole secret of mastering the game of golf--and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro--is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad shots, shrug off the bad days, keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top...
    That's the great thing about golf.  If you can just keep your confidence, if you don't let the game get you down, sooner or later everything falls into place, and you have one of those rounds that you can remember with joy all the rest of your life...
    The mental approach that golf requires is a peculiar and complicated mixture of abiding confidence and patient resignation, of intense concentration and total relaxation.  It is not easy to explain--it is almost something that has to exist deep down in your unconscious mind..." 

I recognize this sort of serenity and abiding confidence in some of the better players in our area.  I've seen them play horribly and just shrug it off.  One of the top players at our club played with me in a qualifier and shot something like 91.  It was brutal.  I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.  But he never lost his cool.  

He has won several club championships and played competitively for years.  I'd be willing to bet he hadn't shot 91 in forty years or more.  He told me that he had been struggling for weeks, unable to break 80.  And yet he had just kept playing and kept his composure.  A couple of weeks later his buddies told me he had shot 68.  He missed shooting his age by a couple of months.  He was back on top of his game.  

Patience is indeed a virtue.  And perhaps nowhere is it more virtuous than in the game of golf.  The other virtue a good player must possess is the determination to just keep hitting it--to keep trying his hardest--no matter what happens.  The interesting thing is, a bad round doesn't really feel so bad if you know you tried your hardest.  I'm convinced--and, more importantly, Arnie is convinced--that if you stay patient and do your best on every shot, you will succeed at this game.

You may never win a Major.  But you will have many enjoyable and memorable rounds.  And that's what the game is all about.