Mental Game

The Autotelic Golfer

Take a moment to reflect on the last time you played really well; when you were at your best. What thoughts come to mind? What feelings? How did you act? If you are like most people, you’ll describe many of the same characteristics associated with being in the zone, or in a “flow” state. One of those characteristics commonly reported is a feeling of being disconnected from outcome; not knowing or caring about your score. In a recent article published on golfdigest.com, there was a wonderful example of this phenomenon in an unlikely situation. Torey Edwards, a 38-year old amateur, who was playing in a Southern California Golf Association Scratch League event, had an opportunity to do something no other golfer had ever done, shoot 58 for the second time in his life in a state sanctioned event. As if the possibility of that feat wasn’t impressive enough, Edwards, who was 10 under par through 17 holes, and needing to eagle the par-5 eighteenth to shoot 58 again, reported after draining the putt, that he didn’t know where he stood in relation to par. It may seem hard to believe that Edwards didn’t know his score, but during these unique moments of optimal performance, athletes can get so absorbed in the experience that outcome is not a motivating factor; they are simply playing for the sake of playing. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Pyshcology of Optimal Experience, calls these type of experiences autotelic, where the activity “is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.” When we play for ourselves, with passion, curiosity, and freedom, we transcend the boundaries of external rewards, achievement, and the expectations of others and create a clearing for limitless possibility, even shooting 58, twice.

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