Golf just isn’t as “mental” as we’ve been led to believe.
Various figures are bandied about – 80, 90, even 100 per cent.
But they’re neither accurate nor realistic.
Why is that? Well, it’s because golf as a discipline is one hundred per cent physical. Think about it for a moment: do you hit a golf ball with your mind? Are your muscles and tendons passive when you swing a club?
Of course they’re not.
So golf is 100% physical…isn’t it?
But…wait a minute…
Who’s driving this bus?
Are bone and sinew able to move of their own volition?
Are they really capable of sequencing complex movements?
Can our ligaments pick a target, can our cartilage choose a club, can our bones track the ball as it flies through the air?
Of course they can’t.
So golf might be 100 per cent mental, after all?
If our brain is at the root of every choice, every movement, every decision, is it fair to say that golf is 100 per cent physical? Surely golf must then be more mental than physical?
But physical sensations affect our brain’s performance; being in pain or even being desperate for the toilet can affect our decision-making and make our execution of physical tasks poorer.
And it’s not limited to sensations – emotions can also affect our performance. There isn’t a golfer alive who doesn’t have first-hand experience of this; think of the times when anger at a bad shot has caused you to make a poor choice, or when hoping for victory or a low score allowed fear to stiffen your swing and slacken your resolve.
Does your head hurt yet? Are the twists and turns starting to irritate?
The blog post isn’t a waste of time – but the debate is.
I have a novel solution.
Forget about it.
Let it go.
There’s a point to the discussion if you’re a philosopher or a psychologist, or even if you simply have an interest in such matters and enjoy a debate. But in practical terms, it’s something which will tie your brain in knots with absolutely no benefit to your golf.
And, just when you think you’ve got it sorted, someone will throw a situational spanner into the works making your head hurt as you try to work it out all over again.
This debate isn’t going to help you improve at golf.
Trying to separate the “mental” from the “physical” is pointless.
They’re simplifications, used to make convoluted concepts easier to discuss and understand. Without them, explanations become excessively complex: “mental game coach” is a lot easier to say than “I work with golfers to improve their games through focusing on the elements of performance which aren’t related to physical skills to ensure the golfer performs those physical skills to the highest possible percentage of their potential and thus seek to help them improve at golf without necessarily working on their physical skills”, for example.
I’m not suggesting such simplifications shouldn’t be used. They’re shorthand, an easy way to say that which is otherwise difficult. They’re great for this.
The problems start when we forget they’re a simplification and behave as if they’re real.
And this is the problem with the mental/physical debate I see played out in golf blogs, golf books and golf media.
Everything is physical. Everything is mental. It’s impossible to disentangle them. The proportions may vary – for example, anxiety may seem more mental than physical but it leads to an increase in the level of stress hormones circulating in your bloodstream. These raise your pulse and blood pressure, and can even cause a tremor.
Such effects are pretty darn physical from where I’m standing.
Equally, a broken toe seems at first glance to be physical – but the pain from the toe causes release of various different transmitter chemicals in the brain, altering our mental state….a “physical” event with decidedly “mental” effects.
So why not forget about the debate and concentrate on golf improvement?
After we’ve argued it out in the comments section, at least.
What do you think?
Have I hit the nail on the head, or do you think I’m wide of the mark? Is this an irrelevant rant?
Whatever your view, I’m looking forward to hearing it. Drop me a comment or two in the section below and let the debate begin!
(if for any reason your comment hasn’t appeared within 24 hours, please get in touch using the contact form or Twitter and I’ll use my long-handled retriever to fish it out of the “Spam Pool Water Hazard”)