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Knowledge is power: Know yourself, your emotions


Probably the most apparent aspect of knowledge for golfers is how much we actually know about our golf swing.

“Golf is such an individual game, and no two golfers swing alike,” says professional golf’s all-time winner (with 88 wins) and New Mexico’s own Kathy Whitworth. Most of us have never seen our swing on camera, so we think we know what we’re doing, but we can’t know for certain. If you know and understand your swing, you can grasp certain tendencies and limitations. Some golfers hit a natural fade and some draw the ball. Go with what you can predict. Two famous golfers did pretty well managing a power fade – Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

Along the same lines as knowing your swing is knowing your game. Are you a risk-taker, a deliberate analyst, a fairways-and-greens kind of player, or perhaps a golfer to whom winning the bet is everything?

Although every person has a unique personality, I have found that golfers fall into categories or stereotypes, and usually they are not too hard to figure out. The point is, if you know your game, and play it, chances are you’ll do well. For example, if you are not a great scrambler, and struggle with your short game, you better realize that fact and avoid taking unnecessary chances. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To thy own self be true, and … thou canst not then be false to any man.” Or any golf course.

One of Malcolm Gladwell’s many bestseller books was “Outliers: The Story of Success,” in which he makes the point that one does not need to be consummately brilliant nor an intellectual genius in order to be successful in life. You just need to be smart enough to solve the important problems you face. So it is with knowledge, and specifically knowledge in golf.

You don’t have to know everything about everything, even though some fellows would want you to think they do; you just need to know what’s important. And just about the top priority of what to know is knowing yourself.  Useful self-knowledge and self-understanding go well beyond things like your swing and your strengths and your talent. Look first at emotions. Performance experts are nearly all in agreement that emotional intelligence is a huge part of the package which leads to success in sports. In competitive sports, whether it’s golf, tennis or football, emotions rule. At crunch time, emotions override thinking, reaction, memory, attitude and everything else. Exactly how does the primacy of emotions affect performance? The answer is everything, but it’s mostly about nerves, concentration, clear thinking, tension, reactions, muscle movement and senses.

Many golfers don’t realize how crucial control of emotions really is. Have you known someone who has made a bonehead dumb mistake barking “Oh, I just wasn’t thinking!” No, the problem wasn’t thinking. It was because he didn’t know his own basic emotions, much less how to get them under control. Folks who don’t know their emotions, and don’t know their fragile insecurities, have few resources to control them. They often sabotage themselves. And there is a more subtle dimension to emotions here. Making good decisions, good risk-reward choices along with intelligent plays are certainly keys to playing well. At certain critical moments in competition, you can over-think; worse yet, you can over-emote.

It’s time to ask: is your failure to get in touch with your emotions holding you back from playing your best golf? Do you know exactly how stressors on the golf course lead to certain responses on your part? When the pressure is on, are you conscious of how you make decisions? Are you in touch with your tendencies under pressure? Often emotions, like an iceberg, have their biggest effect below the surface - below one’s threshold of awareness. In “Golf And The Spirit” M. Scott Peck writes, “If you are a very good golfer, it is probable that you are emotionally mature – at least on the golf course.” Golf is a powerful teacher of emotional maturity, he adds.

Charlie Blanchard