In Tuesday’s media session at the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, in Rochester, New York, Tiger Woods was asked one of the more interesting questions he’s been asked in a long time. And appropriately, he gave it his full attention:
What’s your thoughts on the use of psychologists in golf, and would you ever consider using one?
Yeah, I used to use a sports psychologist when I was younger. It does help. There’s quite a few guys who have sports psychologists they do use and travel with, and some pretty famous ones are out here.
To each his own; some guys want to do everything on their own, no instructor, no sports psychologist, no trainer, no nothing. The other guys need to have the whole boatload. Whatever it takes to become a better player and to shoot lower scores in golf tournaments, I think you have to try and explore that, and I think that you can learn a lot from sports psychologists, there’s no doubt. But ultimately, what’s going to work on the back nine on Sundays to win tournaments?
Hopefully some of these guys have shared experiences with other players and have found things that key — well, keys that actually work and they have put it to good use.
So here are some building-block keys that do work. They are each elements of the golf mastery process.
- You have to believe in your innate talent. And most of all, you have to believe in your talent when there isn’t any evidence that you have any. Talent emanates from our very essence, or core, and that is the linkage that we need to cling to when as we climb the mountain. There will always be plenty of tests, but knowing in your heart the truth about yourself is an island to swim to when the seas get rough.
- You have to believe in what you’re doing. When you believe in what you’re doing, it’s easier to have a positive outlook about the drift of things. It is not always sunshine and lollypops; being able to assure yourself that you’re doing the right thing is a huge edge. You keep doing it until you can no longer be committed to it. That’s not a trivial decision and you’re the only one who can know when that is.
- You have to feel like you’re always getting better. It’s another piece of optimism that feeds the process. There will be so many transitions from the range, to the course, to the tournament and back up from the wreckage. It’s easy to stand back later and see that it’s all part of the process. When you feel like you’re always getting better, you can appreciate that process in the moment. Nobody gets it the first time.
- You have to be able to play with a quiet mind or have a caddie who knows when you’re coming off the rails. As we all have discovered from picking through the players’ post-round transcripts, even the very best players get nervous. But we also find that they embrace it and love it; it means they’re in their favorite circumstances, being in the heat of a tournament with a chance to win. With a quiet mind, it is possible to move through that scintillating milieu in a state of grace, peace and calm. You almost don’t even hear what’s going on around you because you are so deep inside the path you’re following and the circumstances you encounter for the day.
- You have to be able to play completely invested in your target to the exclusion to all else. It’s a key lever to deepening your consciousness. It pushes back the myopia of swing fascinations and expands your awareness out, and out, and out… It illuminates the path and circumstances, more easily puts them in context, and helps to devise solutions on the fly. You find that you don’t think about things so much, you simply come to know them.
- You have to see a visual image of a shot to that target. All art is a right-brain activity for human beings. And almost all of golf is art: the esthetics of the brief orbit of the ball’s trajectory, the sound of an iron fully compressing the ball and launching it into the air, the fanning splash of sand in a bunker, the sweeping arc of a long putt moving across a beautifully manicured green.
- You have to be able to swing freely enough to match your shot to the vision. Tour players look like they are delivering mighty bashes to the ball — and some are — but most are merely making freewheeling swings. They work on upper body strength not so much to bash the ball, but to be able to keep their arms soft and the club under control at higher swing speeds. Tight arms are not fast arms, probably the most counter-intuitive fact in the game. But think about it, baseball pitchers’ arms are not bulging as they throw the fastball. That would bind them up, not free them up.
- And to close the loop, you have to believe in your innate talent.
The foregoing are not the definitive data points on the loop. There are as many “keys that actually work,” as Tiger calls them, as their are human thoughts about them. But these are pretty much the baseline ideas you would discover in most data sets.
The fact that all those data sets exist is one of the reasons we all search for “The Secret.” It becomes an odyssey to wade through it all, picking and choosing and discarding as we go along. Do that long enough and you discover yourself stumbling across things you forgot you knew and recycling discards in the never-ending search. And you also discover that there is no secret save for higher and higher levels of easygoing consciousness.
And still it comes back to the beginning: you have to believe in your innate talent.