Why Teamwork Is The Key To An Individual Game

Why Teamwork Is The Key To An Individual Game

On one of my recent Mind Caddie podcasts, Solheim Cup star Bronte Law was talking about time spent with one of her heroes, Ian Woosnam. “Ian told me that, for him, the game is a mental one,” she informed. An innocent-enough comment perhaps… though one that prompted two responses from listeners, both of which amounted to the same thing: ‘Golf would be mental for Woosie… he already knows how to swing the club.’

These comments, I think, reflect not just a general misunderstanding about the point of the mind game, but also a widely-held belief among club players; that golf becomes an increasingly mental game as the skill level rises. Club players should work on their technique, while tour pros, their methods locked down, need to focus on cerebral elements – tenacity, courage, belief. Right?

Before I deconstruct this view, let me make one, fundamental point; if you think golf is ever just about the technical, or just about the mental, you are deluding yourself. Whatever level you have reached in the game, the two need to work together, as a team. It’s no use creating a clear, mental intention of a soft draw if your swing path is eight degrees left; neither is it a given that a sound putting stroke will hole a five-footer under pressure. Ultimately, golf is about performance – and your ability to perform will always be a product of your brain and body, working together to achieve the desired outcome.

So let us return to the point of the mind game. We can perhaps define an excellent mental approach as one that allows you to get the best out of what you’ve got. Let me repeat that: A strong mental game allows you to get the best out of what you’ve got. Whether you apply that to a specific round or to your game in general, you can see how this definition transcends skill level. Whether you play off scratch or 20, I think we can all agree that getting the best out of what you’ve got is not just a laudable aim, but also a practicable one.

Absolutely, work on your technique. Absolutely, work on developing your skills. We can all work continually towards making what we’ve got better; but at every step of the way, a sound mind game helps us access that improvement and ensures it is reflected in our performance. In his seminal book The Inner Game of Golf, Tim Gallwey noted that at whatever level we play the game, we all have a sense of our potential; a 15-handicapper, for example, may feel breaking 80 is possible. He created an equation that clarifies the roles of our technical or skill level and the mind game, and how they are connected:

Performance = Potential – Interference

In this equation, Potential is created by our technique, or skill level – in other words, the physical side of the game. ‘Interference’ is anything that stops us from delivering on our potential. This could be something as natural and uncontrollable as a 40mph wind; but more often than not, we find interference in the mental game.

One good example here is our relationship to outcomes. So many club players have unrealistically high expectations, created perhaps through competence in other sports or walks of life or through using their best shots – as opposed to their average shots – as benchmarks for results. Excessive expectation tends to create more dramatic ‘failure’, often accompanied by emotion – disappointment, frustration, anger. This emotion contaminates the next shot, and a pattern is set – a great example of mental interference getting in the way of potential.

We could also look at another common mental trap. Bad or disappointing outcomes can be hurtful, and lead to a situation where we play to avoid those shots rather than pursue good ones. These two intentions produce totally different chemical activity in the brain; while the negative, avoiding mindset creates doubt and confusion, the positive, pursuing one delivers clarity and confidence.

It is mental interference that sees our round go to pieces when our great golf takes us out of our comfort zone; it is interference that stops us taking our range form to the course. Note again that this sort of ‘interference’ is no respecter of skill; it can creep into the psyche of an elite player just as easily as the weekend golfer.

So next time you think golf is only a mental game for beautiful swingers, thinking about Tiger Woods. He went through continuous swing changes even after reaching world number one. His desire to improve his potential was never sated. But it was his mental ability to cut out mental interference that allowed him to deliver the performances for which he is famous. Swing work improves your potential; brain work improves ability to deliver it. They work together. Golf may be an individual game, but teamwork remains at its heart.

To find out more about Karl Morris, go to www.themindfactor.com. Karl has worked with multiple major winners. Check out his Mind Caddie Podcasts for free on iTunes