The Most Mentally Tough Golfer in the World

When we think of mental toughness in the game of golf names like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods always come to mind. However, there is one player who makes Nicklaus and Woods look like amateurs, Iron Byron. Now some of you might not think it’s fair to compare Iron Byron to a human, after-all, he is a robot. In fact Iron Byron, who was named after legendary golfer Byron Nelson because of his amazingly consistent and machine-like swing, was used by the USGA to ensure golf ball manufacturers were in compliance with distance standards. So yes, Iron Byron, literally, is a machine, but that being said, he is a freakin’ machine! Simply enter the ball striking parameters you want and he will stripe it every time. Iron Byron doesn’t perceive pressure. He feels no emotion. He is a mental juggernaut!
So, what makes Iron Byron so mentally tough? And, what’s so different about his mental approach when compared to most golfers that allows him to be so consistent? The answer lies in his programming. From an early age, Iron Bryron was incredibly coachable. He was told what to do, and he did it, over and over, the same way every time. He never complained, got angry, nervous, or scared. His self-worth didn’t hinge on the outcome of his shots. He simply picked his target and swung knowing that whatever happened after was beyond his control. His early learning, or programming, didn’t allow for anything that would get in the way of optimal performance.
If only us humans were as coachable. 
Unfortunately for us humans, our programming does get in the way. We are not wired, or programmed, to hit optimal golf shots, we are wired for threat. Evolutionarily speaking, the number one job of our “program” is to keep us alive. It does this by relentlessly scanning the environment for any threat to our survival. Arguably, it is this program that has allowed us to survive for thousands of years and evolve to where we are as a species today. However, as effective as it is in identifying threats, it, understandably, errs on the side of oversensitivity. Further complicating the matter, and again it makes sense from a survival perspective, we are not always the best at discerning what is a real threat versus an artificial, or self-generated one. Because our programmed “fight or flight” response kicks in in the same way whether we are being chased by a tiger or feeling nervous over a match winning three foot putt, we can fall victim to the performance crushing side effects that go along with feeling threatened rendering us mentally weak. Iron Byron doesn’t have this problem. The “fight or flight” code was left out of his program.
The fact that Iron Byron’s programming does not allow him to experience threat gives us some great insight into what makes someone, or something, mentally tough. The only reason we perceive something as threatening is because we choose to see it that way. A three foot putt is not inherently threatening. It only becomes a threat when you interpret it as threatening. All that is really happening in the moments before the putt is that there is potential for a piece of rubber to be struck by a piece of metal into a hole in the earth. The story, or interpretation, you create about that experience is completely in your control. So, if we know from Iron Byron that interpreting a golf shot as threatening weakens you mentally, why would you ever do it? I know, “easier said than done”. As long as we are alive, we will always be on the lookout for threats, real or imagined. Fortunately, however, one thing we can do that Iron Byron can’t is rewrite our own program. By growing our awareness of how we interpret the events in our lives, we can begin to change the impact that those events have on us. 
The next time you find yourself “threatened” on the golf course by some story you are telling yourself about a particular shot or situation, assuming it’s not a real threat like an alligator, consider rewriting, or reframing, your interpretation in a way that decreases the threat rather than amplifies it. 
Not being able to interpret something as threatening isn’t going to help propagate our genepool, but it will help us play better golf.