A couple of interesting things in the transcript of Thursday’s leader at the Canadian Open, Scott Piercy. Speaking after his record-tying 62 at the Hamilton G&CC in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, he responded to a question about his temperament:
How would you classify your temperament when you’re on the golf course? What kind of a guy are you? You got a temperament?
Yeah. I get really mad generally. And that’s something that I have to very much control. And it’s a lot easier to control when you’re playing well. But it’s also something if you control it and stay more calm when you’re playing bad, you can get back into playing well sooner.
It’s something that I constantly have to work on. I’m kind of a perfectionist in an imperfect game. And when you practice as hard as you do and work as hard as you do, my expectations sometimes are a little — my caddie always tells me keep your expectations low, you know, so you don’t get as mad. Like if I hit it to 20 feet, okay, whatever. It’s not great, but it’s not five feet like I want. So it’s just a constant battle within me that I always have to kind of keep it nice and chilled.
You don’t appear that way. You appear to be cool.
Golf is the only time I get really upset. Any other time I’m really chilled, and I think that’s just because I expect so much of myself.
I think I’m my biggest fan, I’m my biggest critic. I push myself to be better than probably most people think I am. So you know, if I don’t get there, that’s probably why I’m hard on myself.
How you finally get to “chilled” is to be able to see the futility of anger. As Piercy himself says, if you can “stay more calm when you’re playing bad, you can get back into playing well sooner.”
The reason is that while anger may “fire you up” and perhaps provide more spurts of intensity, the best state of mind for high quality golf is relaxed focus. Great players get to the point where they almost don’t know that anyone else is there. After one round, Hogan famously returned the scorecard of a fellow competitor that he was supposed to have been keeping, but it was blank. “I don’t know what you shot,” he said.
One of the things that helps with anger is to work on acceptance. While you may want the shot to be within 5 feet as Piercy does, accepting that it’s 20 is the first step in remaining calm. Acceptance allows you to have high expectations and then to live with the results of your best efforts. At that point, you can’t do anything about it anyway and the sooner you move on to the emotional requirements for the next shot, the more level you can keep yourself.
And the other leveling mechanism that’s helpful in managing anger is to ask yourself, “Are you really good enough to be angry? How much are you practicing?” The Tour players who are putting in the mindful, exhaustive work on their games at least have the right to their high expectations.
Which leads to the other interesting thing Piercy brought up in his interview.
Would you say you’re a practicer? Do you like practice? Is that something you enjoy doing?
When I need to. I like to play. I like to practice on the golf course. I don’t like to stand on the range and beat balls. If I need to stand on the putting green and hit 100 four-footers in a row, I’ll do it. But generally I practice in a playing atmosphere.
That was my experience too. I found that I achieved my best golf once I moved out of the “range” modality to the “playing” modality. The problem is that you have to do a lot of foundational range work to get your basic competencies down. But the hardest thing in golf is to take it from the range to the course because you start out “swing-bound” when you need to be “target-bound.”
So the sooner you can get off the range and onto the course the better. You support this with a proper warm-up on the range before each round and remedial reinforcement on the range afterward.
But you mine the gold out on the course because that’s where you ultimately have to demonstrate your accumulated skill. Every time I had to go back to the range for extended periods, say to groove a new swing change, I went backwards on the course because the new move hadn’t seen the course and you are too swing-absorbed to be able to play well.
So anyway, two good food-for-thought answers from Piercy, a guy who’s out there on the frontier working at it. These guys have so much to contribute to us. Lucky us. Can you imagine where we’d be with the game if we didn’t have all these great role models demonstrating to us what’s possible?