101 Golf Secrets

Golf Secrets 91 - 93: Mental

Golf Digest

Sport Psychologist and Golf Digest Advisor, with Alan P. Pittman


John Huston has shot a lot of low scores over the years. I remember after he shot a 61 at the Buick Challenge in 2002, a reporter asked how he shot so many low numbers. He said, "When I get under par, I pretend I'm gambling in Vegas, and I'm up on the house. When that happens, I think, Now I'm playing with the house's money, and I've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. I want to see how much money I can steal."

That's a great attitude. When amateurs find themselves shooting a low score, they start thinking they're playing out of their mind, and they get ahead of themselves. The tendency is to think what you could shoot, and you get tight. Spend a lot of time visualizing yourself shooting low numbers so that you're comfortable when it happens. If your goal is to break 80, then you need to be thinking about shooting in the mid-70s. Take 80 out of the equation.



Who can forget the sight of Thomas Bjorn (above), with a two-shot lead at the time, taking three swings to escape a greenside bunker on the 16th during the final round of the 2003 British Open? Some might say Bjorn blew it, but I give him credit for trying to hit it close. He told me later that he was positive and confident over each shot, but they just didn't work out.

When amateurs hit a bad shot, they often dwell on a mistake, and it leads to more bad shots. Good players take pride in making a three-footer after missing one the hole before. Or smashing a straight drive after a wayward one. The key is to accept your mistake, be positive and do your best on the next shot.





In addition to winning 20 majors and 73 tournaments, Nicklaus finished second 19 times in majors and 46 times in regular events.

When I was growing up, I was taught that athletics was a place where you displayed character. That was reflected in how you accepted victory as well as defeat. You can kick all the lockers you want or bang your head against the wall all you want; just do so after it's over and when it's private. But if somebody plays better than you and defeats you, then that person deserves a firm handshake, a smile, a pat on the back, and you say, "Well done."

My dad taught me that when I was a kid. He said the most important thing in sports is to be gracious in victory and be sincere in defeat. When you shake that person's hand, you should mean it and make him or her feel as if you mean it. Does that mean you have to accept it? No. Every time you get beat, you should learn from it, so you don't get beat again. Most of the times I got beat in golf was not because I gave it away, but because somebody played better than I did. If I happened to just give it away, then I can understand why it might be difficult to go up and say, "Congratulations." Human nature might be that you want to say, "I gave it to you; here it is on a silver platter." But that's never what you do. No matter how you got beat, you lost and the other person has done better than you have. As long as I gave it my all and gave it my best shot, that's all I could do. If the person played better, he played better. More power to him, and congratulations.


 Images from top: Jim Herity, Ismael Roldan