Thursday, October 25, 2012

Guts, Glory, and Plasticity of The Golf Mind

How many times have you scored a triple bogey and essentially given up on the round? I’ve even stopped keeping score I’ve been so demoralized. Keegan Bradley, after chipping into the water, had a triple on the 15th hole on the last day of the 2011 PGA Championship–the first major he’d ever played in–and came back to win the tournament. That takes guts and courage and the ability to never say die, traits any golfer could use more of. These are traits of the mind, traits of character, traits of a person who can turn adversity into the seed of an equal or greater benefit. After Bradley’s triple, he was five shots behind Jason Dufner, a 34 year old journeyman. Bradley then birdied his next two, one with a 40 foot putt, and parred the 18th, arguably the most difficult hole on tour. He tied Dufner in regulation, a gutsy feat that has to be one of the great comebacks in the history of the majors. How he did it is a lesson we can all learn from.

Simply said, in golf, as in life, you never give up. Golf tests the resiliency of the mind to come back after disaster. The mind is conditioned generally to give up rather than come back and try again. It’s an organ of memory and we tend to remember the bad more than the good. Think PTSD which is near epidemic in this country. So instead of facing obstacles and hindrances, we often give up and go in another direction. Or we medicate ourselves with whatever opiate is at hand. The brain’s amygdala, the center of emotional response, is often so conditioned by the time we reach adulthood that it forgets its original function: to help us get through tough times, times of change, times of negativity, of disappointment, of disruption to our comfort zone. The amygdala becomes dysfunctional, and requires external booster shots to help us through the day.

When disaster hits in golf, and it will whether you are Rory McIlroy or John Doe, how you respond is critical. In 1990, unknown Mike Donald was on the verge of winning the U.S. Open. He lost in a playoff against Hale Irwin and was never heard from again until he emerged on the Champions Tour in 2005. Ben Hogan, on the other hand, almost died in a head on car crash in 1949, then came back and won 8 majors. And I shot 45 going out at Bennett Valley the other day, then came in with a 37. In golf, you never say die.