By Stewart Grant
Yogi Berra once said of baseball, “Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.” The same could likely be applied to golf. Jack Nicklaus would mostly agree, as he was once quoted, “Golf is 80% mental, 10% ability, 10% luck.”
Think back to your last round of golf and where you lost strokes to par. What played a bigger part: the mental game or the physical game? Is the game truly 90% mental?
I think that the mental side of the game is overwhelmingly the dominant factor. Firstly, each shot that we take brings with it a series of decisions that seek answers. What club to hit? How much to allow for wind? How much to allow for roll once the ball hits the ground? How far to aim left-or-right based on today’s golf swing? And speaking of the swing, what adjustments should be made to hit the ball the way we want it to go? Even when we physically don’t hit a shot the way that we want to, it is often a mental error that led to the bad swing.
Decisions are obviously a critical mental factor in the game of golf. But probably more important is the attitude that a golfer carries into each shot. I can provide a personal example of this.
This past weekend was the annual Ryder Cup at St. Marys Golf & Country Club, which I was fortunate enough to play in. This team event brings with it a test of nerves that are unlike anything else to an average club golfer. The thrill of this competition makes it the highlight of the golfing season for most of us.
For me personally though, the competitive nature of events such as these can bring out insecurities that I have about my own game. As many people at the club know, my insecurities involve my putter.
During the first few holes of this year’s Ryder Cup, in my first competitive match of 2014, my raw mental shortcomings were completely exposed. Unlike the decisional aspect of the mental game discussed above, my fear of “yipping” my putts became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it super-ceded all other thoughts. I could hardly focus on the decision of speed and line because I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. And when they did stop shaking, I was still thinking about “not screwing up”.
Getting back to the decisional aspect of golf’s mental game, in my case I need to ultimately decide not to give into fear. I need to decide to putt confidently, like a regular human would do. Easier said than done, but I’m trying.
Other golfers might be completely comfortable putting, but might have a mental issue with chipping or driving. We are all special in our own way.
Regardless of our mental or physical abilities, each round of golf brings interesting new challenges for us to try and overcome. Each experience gives us something to learn from as we try and do better next time out.
I do believe that golf is at least 90% mental. And despite my issues, I am 100% looking forward to playing the game again soon.