How many times have you heard broadcasters say during a golf tournament, “If Rory or Rickie or Stacey or Inbee can control his (or her) emotions today, they can win this event.” That applies to you and me, too; if you don’t have an answer for your emotions, you’ll struggle to win, or not play as well as you’d like.
I know in my own professional golf career, negative emotions were a major cause of grief. I just didn’t have any answers when emotions spiraled, and started to go from hesitation to confusion to frustration and even anger. I was continually knocked off my focus by lingering negative emotions, and in my opinion, it was a game-changing factor in an inconsistent career.
I think we can all agree that golf is a difficult and an emotional game. In fact, understanding emotions may be more important in golf than any other sport.
Three main reasons
- You are alone. There are no teammates to take the blame or lean on when you aren’t at your best.
- Time is not your friend. There is far too much time in between shots to mull over what happened or what’s going to happen.
- Chemicals don’t help. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that can help boost performance in other sports won’t help you in golf.
Check Your Emotional Muscles
How prepared are you to deal with the “emotional hazards” in golf? How much “emotional muscle” do you think you have?
Before I explain some simple biology about emotion in golf, and give you a few ideas to help, click here to take a quick quiz and check the level of your “emotional muscle” to see where you are.
Chances are you need to build your emotional muscles to get to the next level in the game. Working on your swing motion and short game is important, but building emotional muscles will help you leverage all of your talent, work and efforts.
So let’s start…
If you find emotions might be keeping you from better performance, a little understanding about performance and the brain may help you. After all, performance starts in the mind.
Some great work by Dr. Joseph Ledoux of the Centre for Neural Science, New York University and Dr. Daniel Goleman, a Harvard educated Psychologist and author of “Emotional Intelligence” has helped highlight the importance and role of the emotional brain in performance in corporate leadership — and now in sports.
The Alligator and the Computer
Generally, two sections of the brain are important to your game. To keep is simple, let’s call them the alligator and the computer. The alligator, or the emotional brain, is the ancient part that has protected human beings from danger through time. It is what leads to “fight or flight.” When threats arise and you need to escape trouble, the alligator kicks in.
The computer, or the thinking brain, makes the decisions. When the alligator perceives a threat and starts snapping, the computer decides on the level of the threat and the action. Is it important enough to respond?
What does this mean to you and your golf game?
When survival was the daily priority for human beings and reacting to threats was a constant reality, the alligator was a caveman’s best friend. But threats are generally not life threatening today. You’re a golfer, not a caveman, and your brain can’t differentiate between a life-threatening situation and a four-foot putt for par and your best score of the year. Your alligator’s threats are a sudden hook out of bounds, a ball buried in the bunker, three putts, a missed green with a wedge and other golf “threats”.
The Little Troublemaker
There’s a little, almond-shaped part of your brain, the control center of the alligator, called the amygdala. It’s the troublemaker, pushing you around on the golf course and causing you to lose your cool. Even if you play like Rory McIlroy on one shot or one hole, the overstimulated alligator can make you play like Charles Barkley on the next.
When the amygdala “hijacks” your brain and the alligator overrides your computer, the computer responds to the threat, and your ability to reason and think logically are reduced. Your working memory becomes less efficient while your blood pressure, adrenaline and hormone levels rise.
Some great work by Harvard trained Brain Scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor highlights that we can manage responses. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of your negative emotion dissolves from the bloodstream and the automatic response is over. The emotion is expressed. So, showing some emotion after a bad shot or bad break isn’t bad. After all, you’re human.
But, what’s important is if you allow the negative emotion to heat up past those 90 seconds, you have chosen to allow the circuit to continue to run. Those 90 seconds gives your brain time to engage the computer which has an inhibitory circuit for the alligator (amygdala). You can then choose a more “performance-friendly” response.
If you allow the circuit to run and the negative emotion to continue, it can take 3-to-4 hours (coincidentally the same amount of time it takes to play a round of golf) for the hormones to clear your system, with the possibility of more hijacks being triggered along the way.
So, simply, the control center of the alligator can undo all of your preparation and sabotage your (and my) golf score. If you’ve ever heard the saying “I was so mad I couldn’t think straight,” this means the alligator is in charge, the computer is over-run and rational decision-making goes out the window. You might know the feeling during a round when things start going south and you can’t reverse it.
Build Your Emotional Muscles
Emotional discipline is like a muscle you can build. In order to build your emotional muscle, here are a few simple ideas that can help you keep the alligator in its cage and make sure the computer is making clear, stress-free decisions.
Know yourself, Know You!
It is very common for you as a golfer to consistently play to your weaknesses and to the course’s strengths. Clearly understand your own strengths, limitations and triggers in the game. What do you do well, what is not so comfortable for you, and what bothers you and triggers a negative reaction?
A lack of awareness can push you to do things you can’t do in your game. How many times have you tried to do things on a golf course that you know you can’t do, but tried them anyway and ended up frustrated and frazzled? Clearly understand what you can and can’t do and always to play to strengths.
The 90-second rule
Tame the alligator with the 90-second rule. The ability to notice what’s going on as it arises, and to slow down before you respond, is a crucial emotional skill. Brain experts tell us an emotion is expressed in about 90 seconds. It’s fine as a golfer to feel and express the emotion within reason in that 90-second window. But, when you feel the emotion building, take a breath and be aware. This awareness will help you control your feelings and soften them before they damage the rest of your game.
Stay in the Moment to Stay Calm
The future and past are distractions for you and stir emotion. Unfortunately, on the golf course there is little you can do about either one. Carrying the past with you will also distract from the current moment and can have a major impact on your execution. Your destiny lies in the present moment. While the future is where your goals and achievements live, you achieve them through playing in the moment.
Emotions are the engine in the vehicle of performance, and the skills associated with building emotional muscle are indispensable to achieving competitive advantage for you in the game of golf.
If you want to enjoy the game more, activate your potential to bring your game to the next level, and be more effective in everything you do, spend some time building your emotional muscles.
Bolte-Taylor, Jill (2008). My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. New York, NY: Penguin Group USA.
Goleman, Dr. Daniel, (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
Ledoux, Dr. Joseph, (1998). The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
Clement: Release the body or the club and arms? Actually it’s both!
Have you been wondering about how to release the body or how to release the club or hands, this is the video for you! When you consider that we do this kind or releasing in all sports such as Ping Pong, Baseball, Tennis serving, football throwing and so much more, you will be very happy to see that plugging that release that you already know into your golf swing will be way easier than you think because you have been there already!
Clement: Hit narrow fairways more consistently with this easy alignment hack
The vast majority of golfers have poor alignment that ruins the chances at a successful execution of a golf shot for a green in regulation or a drive in the fairway. This video will help remove any doubt as to your alignment once and for all.
We humans have a very particular way of seeing things with binocular vision; and when you introduce the brain to side vision, it is literally impossible to line up properly when you don’t even know what you are seeing! Until now!
Clement: Over the top slice driver setup versus high draw driver setup
THE SECRET TO AWESOME DRIVES IS TO HAVE NICE LONG CARRIES WITH LOW SPIN AND THIS STARTS AT ADDRESS!
Many of the long drive competitors use this set up or get through the EXACT SAME impact dynamics as what we show you in this video. Also, The best player ever to have the most incredible driver stat of 91% fairways hit lifetime average is Moe Norman and this is how he did it. It is so logical and works so well, that you will be asking yourself “how come I never thought of that?”
‘Shut it!’ – Paul Casey puts disrespectful spectator in his place
Billy Horschel’s winning WITB: 2021 WGC-Dell Match Play
WGC Match Play Tour Truck Report: New putters for Kuchar, McIlroy, Poulter
Joel Dahmen’s winning WITB: 2021 Corales Puntacana
Valero Texas Open Tour Truck Report: Stenson back in Diablo, Rickie’s limited-edition driver, latest AutoFlex-er
Professional golfers who have never had a lesson
Jordan Spieth’s winning WITB 2021 Valero Texas Open
Ian Poulter WITB 2021 (March)
Dustin Johnson unveils Champions Dinner menu (and it’s not sandwiches)
Scottie Scheffler WITB 2021 (March)
WITB Time Machine: Anthony Kim’s 2012 Wells Fargo Championship WITB
It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since the dynamic Anthony Kim’s last PGA Tour start at the 2012...
WITB GolfWRX Members Edition: Rusty380
Recently we put out the call for our members to submit their WITBs in our forum to be featured on...
Mike Weir’s winning WITB: 2021 Insperity Invitational
Driver: TaylorMade SIM (10.5 degrees) Shaft: KBS TD 60g Category 5 3-wood: TaylorMade SIM2 (15 degrees) 5-wood: TaylorMade SIM2 (19...
Sam Burns’ winning WITB 2021 Valspar Championship
Driver: Callaway Mavrik (10.5 degrees @10.3) Shaft: TPT Prototype 3-wood: Callaway Mavrik Sub Zero (adjustable) (15 degrees @16.2, 14GF, 14GB)...
19th Hole1 week ago
Why Phil Mickelson paid off a group of golfers last weekend
19th Hole1 week ago
Is this Korn Ferry Tour player longer than Bryson DeChambeau ?
19th Hole3 weeks ago
Sports marketing expert: “Masters win worth $600 million for Matsuyama”
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Gary Player opens up on son’s golf ball stunt at 2021 Masters
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Lydia Ko’s winning WITB: 2021 Lotte Championship
Equipment2 weeks ago
Best irons in golf of 2021: Most technology packed
19th Hole2 weeks ago
5-time LPGA major winner DQ’d after first round of LA Open
Equipment3 weeks ago
What GolfWRXers are saying about Costco’s Kirkland Signature wedges