Great Attitude/Optimism- There will be so many obstacles, so many chances to fail, that our attitude will be the backbone needed to continue down our path to success. The ability to happily go about our business is invaluable, especially when things are NOT going the way we had hoped. Character is developed by acceptance of every situation golf can present and the way you learn from each experience. Optimism for the coming shot, or the eventual result of the match, is the lifeblood of a round of golf. Being a constant voice of support and kindness keeps us mentally engaged and willing to compete.

Attitude is a term thrown around a lot in golf and applies in several areas. Certainly, the general meaning of attitude is a good place to begin. Our ability to keep ourselves mentally productive during a round of golf is the separating point of players at every level. Self-talk can be seen as something of an art form. The person who can successfully find their place of peace, that safe haven that becomes an impenetrable force-field, has gained an advantage over the field. High quality golf shots, under pressure, depend on calm focus and that is something to be practiced, like every other facet of the game.

The genius of the attitude game is that it is, definitely, a personal pursuit. Ben Hogan is famous for his stoic approach to a round of golf. His personality called for silence, so that he wasn’t distracted from his purpose.

Professional golfer Claude Harmon (Butch’s father) told a story about making a hole in one at the Masters on the famous 12th hole, while playing with Hogan. It was loudly applauded and celebrated by the gallery. On the next tee Hogan asked, “what did you make there?”

Tiger Woods shows a steely focus, but also wears his emotion in full view. Huge fist pump celebrations can also be followed with loud verbal abuse. He has never hidden his emotion, but instead allowed it to flow freely within the situation.

Jack Nicklaus was famous for his ability to play his best in high pressure situations. His record for consistency in big tournaments is a testament to his unshakeable belief that he was the best and therefore patience was the formula to outlast the field. Nicklaus showed emotion, on a lesser level than Tiger, but still showed emotion.

Lee Trevino may be different from anyone who ever played the game. He was famous for his constant banter during the round of golf. This was no form of gamesmanship or a lack of focus. He knew that he could not hold a level of concentration for over 4 hours, but instead learned to use “soft focus” between shots and then draw into intense concentration when playing the shot. Many times, he described the shot he was going to play to his caddy, in sort of a “suggestive sell” that showed visualization skills and confidence.

The point to be learned is that each of these champions new themselves well enough to create their own safe haven from where they could play their best golf.

There are other types of “attitude” within the game of golf. Like Hogan, you can have ZERO emotion. Some (very few) have had the ability to use anger to boost them to greater heights. Gary Player has spoken of his ability to create an intensity through productive anger. For most players anger shows a loss of control.

Attitude also works into other areas of your game. Having taught for over 35 years, I notice many players have a hardened attitude about their golf swing. Years of trying to change it, hoping that it will then produce nothing but straight golf shots, has created a lack of confidence or trust. This player always feels like their swing will let them down. Even on the days when they are proud of the shots they are hitting, the little voice in their head doesn’t believe and waits for the eventual breakdown.

Some players just cannot see themselves as someone who can hit great golf shots. They feel like results are purely luck, instead of skill. Optimism is easy for some and unattainable for others. Two players may be standing in the fairway with the same shot and have totally different expectations, even though their abilities are the same. The next time you are preparing to hit a shot, as yourself, “what am I feeling right now? Do I expect to hit this shot? Am I scared? Optimistic? Sarcastic? Why not me? Why not this time? When will I believe I can perform? Shouldn’t that day come at some point? I put in a lot of work to then never believe in my abilities.” The presence of mind to run this narrative through your head may open some doors to on-course successes.

Think about your clubs. It is always interesting to me to look at a student’s clubs when they come to a lesson. Questions to them bring interesting answers. They may have new clubs but still have one very old fairway wood or hybrid. Or perhaps a worn wedge. When asked they say, “that is my baby. We have been through a lot together.” Many times, this player fights a slice and this one particular fairway wood has a hooked face or huge off-set. So, they can hit this club when all else fails. I have counseled many players to think into why that club is golden for them. Once they know the answer, they should try to replicate the characteristic of that club through the bag. They need that same great attitude for every club in their bag.

I believe that you must love every club in your bag and have optimism that we can successfully play good shots with all clubs. 

Fitting players for clubs touches on this aspect of attitude. As the fitter, I need to make sure my players have clubs that provide the best results, based on their physical capabilities. Also, we should design a set that gives 13 different options for the shot we need to play, with no overlap. We have to be able to play these clubs when we are tired or lack our best physical performance from day to day.

This fitting can have a huge affect on attitude. We all have had a putter that gave tremendous results for a few rounds and then fell into mediocrity and out of favor. Putting can be our greatest battle, in terms of healthy attitude, because it is result oriented.

If I think about it, I really enjoy hitting every club in my bag. Can you say the same? If not, you need to look at the clubs you don’t like and consider a change.

Many times, I will tell a young player to go practice by themselves. At a young age, they are used to always having someone standing there, giving them advice. Then, when faced with the solitary nature of a round of golf, they are not used to hearing THEIR OWN VOICE and certainly the positive counsel that needs to be offered.

At that point, their attitude tells them to give up or get angry. Every aspect is a learned skill. Some are inherently better than others but there is always a level of learning that goes on.

We have heard about the “Golf Gods” and how they dole out punishment or credit. It is the golfing equivalent of Karma. If you play long enough to be introspective and amused by the journey you are on, you will wonder why things work out the way they do. 

Is it the great shot on the last hole that brings you back for the next round? Or the long putt you make, after missing several short putts earlier in the round. 

You try the hero shot out of the trees and catch limbs and make a quadruple bogey. Or, you calmly chip out into the fairway, play a nice wedge up onto the green and make the putt for par. You can say that your level-headed decision paid off, or you can say the Golf Gods appreciated you playing the game the right way.

Many times, you will take the conservative approach and play for bogey, after weighing the odds. Of course, you didn’t want to, but your experience and maturity made you think better of the risky gamble. So, you went ahead and made the bogey.

On the next hole your shot to the green took a favorable kick up next to the hole for a tap-in birdie. I have witnessed this type of event happen enough, to believe that you are rewarded with good fortune for taking your lumps. 

This is why you should enjoy the challenge presented by playing the ball down, as it provides the necessary character to continue to improve.

Failure, in golf and in life, is such a necessary event. We simply cannot gain the strength and knowledge to play golf at our highest level without the experiences of failure. We then see the truth and are provide with the agenda for the next level of improvement. When Seve Ballesteros was asked how he could have such a great attitude, and win major tournaments, while hitting the ball everywhere, he answered, “I suffer better than other players.” 

There are many, many examples of successful people enduring hardships, some for long periods of time, before gaining the success they were focused on.

Most, when asked if they could do it all over, say that the struggle was valuable and that they would not change a thing. 

People climb Mount Everest because they enjoy the climb, the turmoil, the process. Making it to the top is secondary.

We may just be trying to make it to the end of this round or the end of this practice bucket. As I said in the book, some of the greatest buckets of balls I ever hit, were the last half of a bad bucket. If you have a great time through failure, success cannot be far behind.

About Me

Michael Wolf, Certified Master Teaching Professional, has been playing golf for 46 years and teaching professionally for over 34 years. He has given over 30,000 golf lessons. Author of The Driven Golfer: Building Your Method For Scratch Golf. Harvey Penick Award Winner- 2016 (Top Instructor U.S./World Golf Teachers Federation)

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