Is someone else playing your golf ball?
Dr Karl Morris
Nobody, in my opinion, plays golf totally
for themselves. As human beings we
are simply hard wired to seek approval
from our peers. We like to fit in, we like
to feel appreciated and – above all – we
like to feel worthy. Yet some of these
powerful unconscious drivers could be wrecking your scores,
giving rise to a huge amount of frustration with your game –
and no amount of swing instruction will be the answer.
I don’t think that you will ever totally free yourself of this
but let’s take a closer look at exactly what happens out on a
golf course, at some of the behavioural traits we can recognise.
Maybe you will identify with one or two of the personalities
and then, perhaps, decide to act differently in the best
interests of your game (and your sanity!).
I am sure you would agree that we all take on certain ‘personalities’
depending on the context that we find ourselves
in. For example, your personality is surely not the same in a
corporate meeting as it is when you are having a drink in the
pub with your mates. Similarly, our personality will be a bit
different with a brother or sister than it would be with our
grandparents. Of course our basic character is intact but we
all adapt somewhat depending on the environment and the
context we are in.
If we can play the game and become
absorbed in this task at hand we can
lose ourself and create the possibility
of entry into that special place called
‘the zone’. We get ‘lost in action’.This is exactly what happens when we slip into our golf
shoes and step out onto the course. We become a certain
person, albeit unconsciously, yet it does happen as I have
witnessed over and over again. We can best sum up what
goes on internally on a golf course by way of ‘labelling’ some
of the personalities I have observed over the years. If you
catch a glimpse of yourself in any of the following summaries
you will have to decide if that personality is best
suited to getting the most from your game.
Be warned, though, your golfing personality will be deeply
ingrained and it will take a considerable effort over a number
of rounds/weeks/months to change if you feel it is necessary.
For the majority of golfers I have worked with change
is certainly worth it when they begin to see the golf and the
scores they are really capable of begin to come through.
So, let’s have a look at who is out on the course. If you
wander down to the 1st tee this weekend and spent half-anhour
watching groups set off I am sure you’d catch a
glimpse of most – if not all – of these very personalities.
First up, Mr Exhibition?
Mr Exhibition has one favourite club and one club that he
thinks is for sissies. Can you imagine what they are?
Mr Exhibition absolutely loves his driver, he reads all the
latest articles on maximising distance, he has the latest
biggest headed, shaft-loaded tungsten whopper that he can
take out onto the course and really show the others what he
is capable of in the big hitting and impressing stakes. To Mr
Exhibition it is the adrenaline pump that comes from really
flushing that drive miles down the middle that makes the
game worthwhile, even if it means he has to send a couple of
balls out of bounds and off the golf course that is just part
of the deal in being ‘The Man’ off the tee. To Mr Exhibition
the nonsense that you have to carry out with the putter is
for softies. What a waste of time. You can almost hear Mr Exhibition
brag about how many three putts he had after he
reached yet another par five with a colossal drive and only a
9 iron. He wears the ‘gives it a ride’ tag as a badge of honour
and he can get into some serious sparring on the golf course
if he gets paired with a fellow exhibitionist. A lot of rounds
have some really high moments but after the game has
ended there is usually a good bit of quiet time spent mulling
over another day of handicap increases. To Mr Exhibition
golf can seem terribly unfair when he plays with someone
who just trundles it down the fairway half the length of one
of his big drives but time and again he ends up being on the
What about Mr Ball Striker?
I have met so many of these people over the years particularly
out on the European Tour. He is such a great ball striker
they chant. The awe in their voice at somebody who is perceived
to strike the ball well. They have a sneering disdain
for those players who are not good ball strikers, they just
‘chop it round’ is a classic phrase. The fact that they tend to
chop it round in less shots than they do is an irrelevance.
They want to hear that particular strike, that particular
sound of the club to grant entry in to this most exclusive of
clubs. A favourite topic of conversation is just how short a
club it is possible to have found that green on a par 3 with.
Woe betide anyone who has the audacity to score low or
even win a tournament if they are not in the ball strikers
club. Similar in many ways to Mr Exhibition yet perhaps Mr
Ball Striker is a more terminal case as his perception of the
game is so skewed towards ball striking and technique that
he finds it so difficult to put a score together with anything
less than a perfect striking day. In many ways he is the ultimate
narcissist because he only accepts great ball striking as
the epitome of a REAL golfer. Ugly but effective golf is just
too ridiculous to even contemplate.
What about Mr Friends and Relatives?
Mr Friends and Relatives is out there concerned, very
concerned. He so much wants to do well because he ‘knows’
then that he will get lots and lots of strokes from those
around him – namely friends and relatives. The problem
though for Mr F & R is that he feels really bad when he does
make a poor score. He walks a tightrope of a certain score
making him a good person and a certain score making him a
bad person. He has blurred the boundary between what he is
and what he does. Too much of his sense of ‘self’ is housed
on the direction that a golf ball takes. That is far too much
pressure for any human being to have on his or her shoulders.
It is not what Chuck Hogan said many years ago a ‘safe
place’ to play golf from. When we identify too much of our
ego to any external situation we become highly vulnerable to
the inevitable vagaries of results and outcomes.
Mr F and R tends to get very nervous before a game, understandably
as his very self worth is on the line from the
moment he pegs it up on the first tee. He is not really playing
a game anymore, golf has become something far bigger than
that. Most times he walks off the course feeling deflated that
his own sense of self has taken another battering.
Yes, I am sure that you have played with a Mr Angry.
There is at least one in every golf club and he can make the
wonderful game a living hell. Five hours with him is the
sporting equivalent of water torture. People shouldn’t have
to deal with it but unfortunately Mr Angry is so absorbed
with himself that he has absolutely no concept of just what
an ugly experience it is to be paired with him on the course.
Things can start well, the boat can be floating nicely along
and then bang! One shot is usually all it takes to set him off.
Clubs buried in the turf, external displays of fury and then a
solitary internal combustion that can last anything from a
couple of holes to a full round.
Yet when you look at it I think
Mr Angry is still playing largely
for somebody else, after all,
how often do you see somebody
playing golf on their own
and burying clubs in the
What is really going on with
our red-faced friend when it all
kicks off and the tantrums start? In my opinion a lot of the
anger is simply a demonstration to you, his playing partner,
that he really is a better golfer than the player you are seeing.
If he can get so angry, so livid with what he is doing then it
really does show the rest of the world that his golf is usually
much, much better than this. If he can get so angry about a
shot it means that you will understand just how good he
could be if it wasn’t for the aberration you see before you
today. Like the screaming child crying for attention, Mr
Angry has never fully grown up to develop a mature enough
attitude to play what is a tough and challenging game.
There are obviously numerous other personalities that
venture out onto the course but these have been the ones
that I have seen the most over the years – and certainly they
have been the most destructive. We have all had a tendency
to be at least one of the personalities at some stage in our
golfing career but the point here is that if the personality becomes the default, the norm, the person that you always become
on the course, then it is time to do something about it
before the game drives you mad.
All of this is easy to recognise in others but somewhat
more of challenge to fix in ourselves. Perhaps the most helpful
thing that we can do for our game is to commit to being
Mr Process on the course.
OK, so what does Mr Process do?
Mr Process is very involved in what he or she CAN control.
They play the game knowing that the outcome can and will
vary. On some days they will go out onto the course and they
will not score well. They will endure some bad luck, a few
bad breaks, one or two cruel bounces, but this they realise is
all part of the very nature of the game – in fact, the nature of
life itself. To cope with this they focus totally on the process
they need to follow on each and every shot that they take.
The have a principle that everything that occurs before the
clubface meets the ball is 100% down to them – i.e. totally
within their control – but as soon as club and ball collide the
element of uncertainty enters the equation.
A characteristic of this type of player is that he or she gets
very absorbed in the process and the challenge of each shot.
As Tiger Woods said at his very best: ‘I get so lost in the moment,
the challenge of hitting this shot, this task’ – it is as if
this shot is the only thing that is occurring that their attention
is on. (Just imagine how good it would feel to play golf
like Mr Process – to hit every shot with that mindset.)
As part of his process this type of golfer also realises that
he is more than the direction of a golf ball. He himself as a
person is not too heavily invested in outcome. If we can play
the game and become absorbed in this task at hand we can
lose ourself and create the possibility of entry into that special
place called ‘the zone’. We get ‘lost in action’. In a place
where the mind actually wants to be. We as human beings
crave the opportunity of being so absorbed in something
that we lose our sense of self. We become the game and we
are genuinely playing the game of golf. As esoteric as this
may sound it is possible to become so absorbed in an activity
that it really challenges mind and body but we do need to be
playing the game for ourselves and not for others and the
potential strokes that we may receive as a result of our ability
to move a golf ball to a target.
Understand that neither you nor I will get this all of the
time. You and I are human, with all of the faults and egotistical
frailty that comes with the territory. BUT if we can begin
to catch ourselves when we are playing the game for others,
and reasons other than golf, then we can bring ourselves back
to the process of PLAYING golf. It is something that we can all
aim at and maybe that is the ultimate prize. The reward is
that we can then sit back in the clubhouse after a game and
reflect – regardless of the numerical outcome – on the fact
that ‘we have done our bit today’. We have carried out our
process on each and every shot, we have let the club and ball
meet each other, dealt with the outcome and then moved on
to the next challenge. We can sit there and know we have
played golf. We have played the game for the sake of the
game – and that is more than enough reason for anybody.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine