As a Clinical Psychologist, I have found that pre and post-round interviews provide some of the greatest insight into the minds of professional golfers. In a recent interview before his win at the Saudi International, Dustin Johnson, the current men’s world number one, was asked what one piece of advice he would give aspiring junior golfers and I was pleasantly surprised by his answer. Dustin said, “I’m the best player in the world, I hit some of the worst shots you’ve ever seen. But I go find it and hit it again. Obviously not all of them are bad but I do hit bad shots. It’s managing those shots and not letting it bother you and going and hitting the next one good.”
The main reason I find Dustin’s advice surprising is because it’s psychological in nature. It would have been easy for him to throw out something cliche like “hit it farther”, “work on your short-game”, or “stay in school”. Instead, his response highlighted the importance of having a strong mental game, and although I am biased, I’m glad he did.
The mental game is probably the most underappreciated aspect of learning the game of golf despite it having the greatest impact on performance. You can have the most technically sound swing on the planet, but if your mind’s not right, your chances of success decrease dramatically. And on the other side, there are players who don’t necessarily have the most efficient swings, but can overcome it with an indomitable will to win.
I couldn’t agree more with Dustin’s advice, the skill of learning how to manage the “bad” shots and not letting them interfere with future performance would be in my top three mental game fundamentals for golfers.
Too often, golfers allow their judgment of the past to set the tone for the future because they either don’t recognize the impact of their judgements on their performance or they actually believe their judgements are true! Unpacking that last sentence is a much longer conversation, but for now, I’ll just say I don’t believe there are “good” or “bad” shots” only stories we tell ourselves about what happened. Those golfers who recognize they are in control of that narrative have a greater chance of succeeding.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with me, it’s clear that judgment resonates. Whether grumbling to ourselves for missing a short putt or screaming in exasperation after ripping a drive OB, the ability or inability to manage those feelings is paramount to what happens next. Do you hang on to the anger and disappointment dooming yourself to ruminate about the past? Or, do you accept what happened, let go, and move on? The choice is yours, but in my opinion one clearly leads to better golf.