When asked about shooting a tournament record 28 on the back nine of the first round of stroke play at the 2022 U.S. Junior Amateur, 18 year old Jack Catalay, younger brother of PGA Tour star Patrick Cantlay, responded, “I think that’s the first time I have broken 30. There’s a first time for everything, I guess. It’s just another round of golf, sometimes you play good and sometimes you play bad. Today, I played good.”
Jack’s matter-of-fact response wasn’t as exuberant as one might expect from a player coming off of a bogey free, four birdie, two eagle back nine, but nonetheless, for me as a psychologist, it was still enthralling. There is so much we can learn from exceptional performances that can inform our own play and Jack’s reaction to his stellar performance teaches us an invaluable lesson about the benefits of acceptance.
Acceptance, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), “is a favorable, or non-judgmental, attitude toward an idea, situation, person, or group”. In Jack Cantlay’s case, his relationship to his score was one of pure; it did not matter what he shot. In the end his score was his score. Whether his score was thought of by others as extraordinary, didn’t affect him one way or the other. In fact, it seemed like he hadn’t thought much about what he had shot until he was asked to reflect on his round.
The ability to accept what is and separate oneself from score, or outcome, is an important skill that is common among better players. These elite athletes don’t focus on what has happened (past results) or what will happen (future outcomes). Instead, they focus on the present moment. It is this present-moment focused “one shot at a time” attitude that allows these players the psychological freedom to simply play unencumbered by expectations and get the most out of their games.
Unfortunately for those deeply enmeshed in the outcome of their performance, golf is a game where you need to keep score. However, if you are one of those people so enmeshed in your score and wanting to get some relief from your enmeshment, consider the following exercise: The next time you go play instead of taking a traditional scorecard, bring a blank piece of paper. Do not write down your score to par on each hole you play, rather, make a hash mark after each stroke you take. In other words, if the first hole is a par 4 and it takes you 5 shots to complete it, you would have five hash marks on your paper. Do not write “5”, bogey, or +1. Taking the exercise even further, If you want to disconnect even more from your score, ask someone who is not playing with you (maybe the head pro) to pick a number between 36 and 56, if you are playing nine holes, or a number between 72 and 92, if you are playing eighteen holes. Then, ask them not to tell you the number they picked and to write down the number on a piece of paper for you to look at after your round. Whatever that number is, will be your “par” for that round. By not having a preconceived notion of what you should be shooting, you will find an amazing amount of freedom in your play disconnected from your score.
Dr. Josh Brant