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GOLF DOCTOR

Some thoughts on golf gambling and mental coaching

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Just like masks, shuttered store fronts and being homebound seems to be the new normal, PGA Tour golf betting also is becoming normal.

When two years ago the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned sports gambling in most states, betting sites popped up like weeds. Maybe it was bound to happen. Some 23 states have either passed bills or legalized sports wagering. California, Florida, New York and Texas have yet to do so, but it’s only a matter of time.

The PGA Tour has positioned itself in the market through high-profile partnerships with BetMGM, PointsBet, FanDuel and DraftKings. If you were watching the final round of the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek CC in Las Vegas, you saw winner Jason Kokrak posing for the media sporting a BetMGM cap. He was worth a whole lot of cash to those who believed in him before the tournament.

“The focus of our sports betting partnerships is to engage fans in new and creative ways,” said Norb Gambuzza, senior VP of media and gaming for the PGA Tour.

Lest you misunderstand, that doesn’t mean attracting more folks to tee it up at their local municipal course. It does mean a whopping revenue stream for the tour coffers. Also, if you were watching the CJ Cup, you couldn’t help but notice the appearance of betting odds that appeared on-screen as the tournament was being played. It’s doubtful anyone on the golf course was relaying that information to players or caddies, but that could happen in the future.

Personally, I am in the rather large group that does not approve of wagering on the outcomes of professional golf competitions. I have always believed golf to be quite above that pedestrian greed.

As early as 1956, the USGA issued a public statement that golf’s governing body “disapproves of gambling in connection with golf tournaments because of the harm it can do to the best interests of the game.”

They have evidently not changed that position. Even though there is a new wrinkle for the Masters telecast with “personally curated featured groups,” meaning choose your own groups to watch on your slick iPad, golf fans should not expect live betting odds on the CBS broadcast. Is mental game coaching just a hoax, or can it mean the difference between winning and losing? Before addressing such a telling question, I feel obligated to first refer to the opening lines of a piece written by Alan Shipnuck on Nov. 1 for golf.com. Shipnuck is the author of the 2003 book Blood, Sweat and Tees: Rich Beem’s Walk on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour, just one year after Beem’s 2002 win of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, where he bested Tiger Woods by one shot.

Here’s the opening: “Collin Morikawa arrived on the PGA Tour fully formed, or so it seemed. How does a player so young (23!) exude such self-possession? Plenty of credit goes to his parents, Blaine and Debbie, as well as his coaches, teammates and professors at Cal Berkeley. But the biggest influence in Morikawa’s maturation into a precocious major champion is his lifelong mentor Rick Sessinghaus, whose mind-body teachings transcend the usual driving-range talk.”

It was Sessinghaus who coached Morikawa how to calm his nerves, thereby permitting him to step up to the moment on the 70th hole of the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco in August, and smash a cut driver to the reachable par 4 which came to rest seven feet from the hole. The ensuing putt meant victory.

That shot will rank as one of the greatest shots in major championship history. Sessinghaus, with a doctorate in applied sport psychology, has become the high priest of what he calls “flow state,” which is sometimes referred to as the “zone.”

In the simplest terms, flow is “the natural, effortless unfolding of our life (and actions) in a way that moves us toward wholeness and harmony” (from The Power of Flow by Belitz and Lundstrom). With the help of his coach, Morikawa tapped into the power of flow/zone on one magical afternoon in August. The power of flow is there for all.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.