So we might get a little angry on the golf course.
So we fume down fairways and gurn onto greens.
So we’ve been known to throw a club or two.
What else do you expect? This is golf, and golf is frustrating. Everyone knows that.
There’s only one way to react to a chilli-dipped chip that skids into a bunker. Duck-hooking a drive out-of-bounds demands an angry response. Four putting the final green to miss a cut inevitably leads to a slammed trunk.
Our duck hooks, our slices, our pulled putts and our chili-dips. These are the facts…and the facts don’t lie. We are powerless in the face of golf. Anything else is just self-deception. We need to learn to manage our emotions, not to pretend we’re great.
We have no choice.
Do the “facts” really tell the whole story?
Surely…reality is absolute…isn’t it?
But what if it isn’t?
What if how we perceive the facts influences our reality and in doing so influences our experiences in life?
What if we have a Reality Handicap, in addition to our golf one?
A friend has a long-running argument with his girlfriend. She believes “everyone is special”. His answer is “if everyone is special, then no-one is”. They were both looking for support, and so asked what I thought.
They’re both right.
And this isn’t some silly namby-pamby sit-on-the-fence don’t-upset-anyone-don’t-take sides nonsense. If people ask for my opinion, they get it. Both of them are right, both statements are true and neither is “more” true than the other.
How can this be?
Pull up a chair, grab the beverage of your choice, and listen up. It’s time for Dr Geek’s Story Corner.
A tale of two golfers.
Paddy and Ian play at the same club. Both are scratch golfers, and both have won the club championship on a number of occasions. They’re rivals and they know it; they’re civil when paired together, but they’re far from close. We join them for their weekly medal, 3 weeks before the club championship
Ian hits nearly every fairway and nearly every green in regulation and goes round in level par. He has no three putts and usually gets up and down if he misses a green.
Paddy is far more erratic; he misses nearly as many fairways as he hits, and has far fewer greens in regulation. He bogeys several holes but a couple of birdies and an eagle see him home in level par too.
In the clubhouse, Paddy is by far the happier. He smiles as he listens to Ian’s tale of woe. He’s frustrated the round got away from him. He’s unhappy he failed to capitalise on a number of birdie opportunities…and his lip-outs on the 14th and 18th are mentioned more than once.
The following week, the roles are reversed.
This time it’s Ian who’s all over the place and Paddy who is Mr Dull-but-Steady-Eddie. Once again, both come home in level par.
And once again, Paddy is the one who’s all smiles in the bar. Paddy’s playing partner is perplexed as Ian laments his round.
And what a tale it is! Ian’s now extremely frustrated – his swing has deserted him. His lack of consistency causes much wailing and gnashing of teeth; he was all over the place and is giving a major swing change some serious consideration as a result.
After he’s left the bar to head to the range, Paddy’s playing partner confronts him.”Alright” he says, fixing him with a steely glare “What gives? Last week you were all over the course, this week you were Steady Eddie; why aren’t you complaining?”
Paddy stares back, in utter disbelief.”Why on Earth would I complain? I’ve just been round twice in level par; I managed it last week when I couldn’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo. And this week my driving and irons were great. I just didn’t quite have my eye in with the putter.”
Paddy takes a long, thoughtful slurp from his glass.
A big dumb grin comes over his face “I can’t wait for next week. If I can get last week’s scoring working with this week’s long game the sky’s the limit!”
Although the situation is a wee bit contrived, our golfers’ reactions are not. Creep into any golf club on a competitive day and you’ll find any number of golfers like Ian. There are far fewer Paddys…but they undoubtedly exist.
It’s the old battle between optimism and pessimism; is the glass half full or half empty?
Of course, both are true…as are Paddy and Ian’s interpretation of their rounds.
So what to choose?
Ian’s focused on what went wrong. He’s preoccupied with the putts he missed and the wayward shots. Paddy’s approach focuses on what’s working rather than what wasn’t. As a result Ian’s tinkering with his swing, and Paddy’s relaxed and eagerly anticipating next week’s championship.
Which golfer is in the better frame of mind for the forthcoming championship? Who is more likely to prevail? Which golfer has the lower Reality Handicap?
Which golfer are you?
Reality isn’t absolute; the facts may remain the same, but we can choose how we perceive them.
If we can interpret our situation in different ways, we should seek to see it in the most useful light. There are always options; if we can’t see them we’re not looking hard enough. Even if we’re facing a firing squad, we can choose to have our eyes open or closed.
The crucial question then becomes – how can I turn this to my advantage? Where is the positive?
I’m frequently teased for relentlessly seeking the positive in a round many others would find disappointing, but how does being negative help me? I see it all the time on Twitter; golfers who are way better than the average denigrating their games, forever talking themselves down. Left unchecked, it quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But please let me be clear: I’m not advocating attempting to improve through false positivity.
I’m not suggesting you walk around repeating “I can CRUSH Tiger Woods”. Telling yourself something that isn’t true won’t help because you know it’s not true. Try it if you must – but I certainly won’t be joining you. Everything I’m saying is true. But I’m choosing to see the situation in the best possible manner.
And I’m not saying I never get angry on the course. I’m a passionate guy, and I can be a bit hot-headed. But I know the difference between reaction and response.
Most golfers only react. They are ruled by their emotions and live in fear. They know a few poor shots can lead to an angry cascade which will burn a hole in their scorecard and ruin another Saturday.
Smart golfers respond.
They know they have a choice no matter their position. They’re not distracted by reaction. They take the time to turn the situation to their advantage. They know that golf is there to be enjoyed, and they know their best performance will come when they’re enjoying their golf.
Be a smart golfer. Be a Paddy. Respond. See the positive.
Or…you could be like everyone else. You could talk yourself down, take the most negative option and keep on throwing those clubs.
Just know that if you do this when you’re playing me, I’ll be smiling…it’s pretty easy for me to find the advantage in that situation.
What about you? What’s your Reality Handicap? Are you single digits or lucky-if-you’ve got-one? Which golfer are you? Are you a Paddy or an Ian or are you somewhere in between? Many golfers gently talk down their golf “for a laugh”…but is it hurting their game? Or do you think this is a whole boat-load of tree-hugging hippy bull-crap?
I’d love to hear what you’re thinking, drop a comment below to let me know!