Scolding Yourself

This idea came to me as I was laboring along on one of the fitness center’s new elliptical machines. Scanning the bank of televisions, I saw that the Golf Channel was playing an episode from “Playing Lessons From The Pros.” And befitting the beginning of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at his Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, the episode featured Arnold and his grandson, Sam Saunders.

It was hard to tell how old the episode was because I discovered it after it had begun, but Saunders is a Tour pro in his own right. Currently exempt on the Nationwide Tour, he’s also played in a dozen or so PGA Tour events, presumably on sponsors’ invitations (understandably, he received one this week too).

So the two of them are out on  the Charger Course, a nine-holer I didn’t even know Bay Hill had. And they’re getting ready to tee off on the first hole, a sharp dogleg left. So Sam says that he’s going to take the shortcut over the trees – and the houses – on the corner of the dogleg. There was a perfect notch in the treeline.

So staring into the jaws of death, he got a little too quick – hooking quick – and as the ball rose in the sky and started arcing left, Arnold says in this scolding voice, “What about that one, Samuel?” And then with an additional tone of disapproval, “That one’s probably in someone’s swimming pool.” And I thought, “What a perfect way to ruin the rapport that a round of golf brings to any relationship, especially one like theirs.” (Saunders confessed to his quickness, teed up another and hit the perfect shot he was imagining on the first one.)

I once played with a couple, both fairly decent players. I don’t remember their names and I can’t even remember what they looked like. What I do remember was him scolding her all the way around the golf course every time she mishit a shot. And I thought, “I know he’s trying to help her, but can’t he hear himself?”

And then, as I was envisioning this post in my mind’s eye, I had memories of myself hitting a bad short game shot and reflexively scolding myself, “Oh, Bill. What are you doing?” Would I speak to anyone else in that tone of voice? Nope.

And the reason was all of the great training I received working with my partner, Fred Shoemaker in our School For Extraordinary Golf. Our emphasis was always on helping students to find a way to feel what was happening in the moment, the holy grail of good golf.

So all of our communication attempted to be completely neutral in the evaluation of the shot – no good shot or bad shot – we only cared about helping the student to feel what actually happened. And so in that context, we almost never reacted to a shot – even praising a good one – because  we didn’t want to do anything to yank the student out of the quiet mindset necessary for acute awareness. And, of course, we never scolded anyone.

So why would I scold myself? It’s that damned ego again. I rarely do it when I’m playing by myself; I’m always just in the question of what actually happened. It almost always happens when I’m playing with others and, in looking at it, always to slyly communicate that I am a better player than that shot suggested.

So when my attention is on what other people think of my game, it cannot be on what actually occurred in the swing. When Sam Saunders attention is on what his grandfather thinks of his swing, it cannot be on what actually occurred in the swing. And when the long-suffering wife is concerned about what her husband thinks of her swing, it cannot be on what actually occurred in the swing.

Optional Homework:

  1. Catch yourself in the act of scolding someone else and ask yourself, “Would I find this motivating?” and,
  2. Catch yourself in the act of scolding yourself and ask yourself, “Would I find this motivating or is it for some other reason?”

There are some people who like the “taste of the whip,” but in my experience, not as many as you might think.

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One Response to Scolding Yourself

  1. Ray Madison says:

    Very good post today, it is eye opening and well said.