In one of my recent articles on Bobby Jones, I quoted Bobby's three rules for mentally preparing yourself for playing the game and dealing with pressure. I think they are well worth considering in some detail. It's important to remember that these rules were made by the best player of his generation. This was a young man who dominated the Major championships, winning thirteen of them by the age of twenty-eight. The reason I mention this is because there are some who say that positive thinking is important in golf. You will see that Bobby Jones was not a power-of-positive-thinking proponent. He was a realist.
Consider Bobby's first rule: "I must be prepared for the making of mistakes." Not a very positive thought, but the reality is that golf is a game where one's ability to recover from mistakes often determines the winner. Golf is a game of mistakes, or misses. No one hits the ball perfectly every time. We are inevitably going to make mistakes. So, we might better be prepared for them.
We can't afford to have a letdown, or a meltdown, every time we hit a ball in the water or out of bounds. We have to be mentally prepared for these things. It isn't being negative to prepare oneself for trouble. It's being realistic.
Bobby's second rule was in the same vein: "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." Remember, this was from the best player in the world at the time. This was from a guy who could hit magnificent golf shots. But when it counted, even he wanted to play golf in such a way as to give himself room for error. He didn't try to bust every drive three hundred yards. He didn't fire at every pin. He played conservatively. And he learned to do this after years of trying to play every shot, as he admitted, "for its ultimate potential." He eventually learned that "the best shot possible was not always the best shot to play."
I share this excellent advice, knowing that many will nod and say, "Yeah, yeah." But will go out tomorrow and, with much less ability than Bobby Jones, still fire away at tucked pins and try to blast a drive on every par four and five. And then, they will curse their luck for making sevens and eights. An ounce of discretion can save a ton of grief in golf. Remember that Bobby said golf was not a game meant to be played impetuously.
Bobby's final rule for playing the game was: "I must expect to have to do some scrambling and not be discouraged if the amount of it happens to be more than normal." Bobby won the Grand Slam admittedly not playing his best golf. He said he believed he won because he tried harder, was willing to take more punishment, and simply refused to give up. He fought and scrambled his way to victories that at times seemed lost. And he appreciated those hard fought victories all the more because they were won by using imagination and creativity to get the job done when nothing else would have sufficed.
So, the bottom line from Bobby Jones' perspective is that we have to prepare ourselves mentally for trouble. We must never be surprised or discouraged when we encounter troubles on the course because that is the very nature of the game. If we can't keep our cool and play our way out of trouble, we won't win many matches. We will win only on those rare occasions when we are on our game and the putts are dropping. And those days are generally few and far between for all of us. Remember, even Bobby Jones felt he would be at his best no more than half a dozen times a season. The rest of the time he had to be prepared to work hard and scramble his way to a good score.
If that was Bobby Jones' experience, how much more shouldn't it apply to mere mortals like us? It's fine to plan for success in this game so long as we accept that it won't come without some trials and tribulations.