By: Tony Bennett
“GOLF” is written by Tony Bennett, head coach of Bennett’s Golf Learning Centers (BGLC), with centres located in Alto Golf, Alvor and Quinta da Ria, Tavira. For more information, advice on a specific point or general enquiry please write to [email protected] , call (+351) 932 524 253 or visit www.tonybennettgolf.com
Until the mid 90s, it was rare for new professionals to go out on tour and win within the first few months: of course there were exceptions, but normally these players became the greats of golf.
In 1954, Arnold Palmer had taken the route to professional golf following a spectacular amateur career, winning his first tour event eight months after his professional debut. Jack Nicklaus, who also had a tremendous amateur career, secured his first professional victory seven months after turning professional in the 1962 US Open, beating the aforementioned Arnold Palmer in a playoff. Years later, the most successful English golfer to date, Nick Faldo, changed codes and enjoyed his first tour win some 16 months into his professional career.
Palmer, Nicklaus and Faldo all displayed incredible mental control and strength of character, personifying the image of true superstars. Palmer had a very unusual almost agricultural type golf swing: powerful arms and a fast tempo made his swing appear to be violent, demonstrating force rather than beauty. Even so, he had an excellent long game, but it was his short game and, more specifically, his extraordinary will to win that were his trump cards. Nicklaus was blessed with physical power but it was his ability to concentrate, think clearly, thrive on pressure, relax and be tactically astute that set him apart from his peers. (1)
Likewise, Faldo enjoyed the reputation of being a composed competitor that would grind out scores on the toughest courses. Players had to beat Faldo as he would rarely ever beat himself. Each player displayed mental skills that separated them from their peers – that is not to say that other players of those eras did not possess similar skill sets, but it was more rarely found. The players of today are better prepared mentally and emotionally. What was once the preserve of a few great players has now become the norm, with each enjoying the benefits of a superior mental game.
Tiger Woods, the dominant golfer of the present era, was an instant success, winning twice in his first seven professional starts. Woods, who had an outstanding amateur career and has been formally working on his mental game since the age of 12, believes that “his creative mind is his greatest strength” (2).
Today players are better prepared than their predecessors, not only technically and physically but as they join the tour, many have an attitude that they can win: win quickly and win often. Of the 18 events played on the 2007 European Tour, there have been 11 first time winners, notably Juan Pablo Martins, who won the Estoril Portuguese Open two weeks ago. Martins had previously been a valued member of the Spanish Boys, Youths and Men’s National teams.
The Amateur Tour has become more organised and provided a strong breeding ground for aspiring players to develop skills. The introduction of second and third level professional tours is relatively new, (Challenge Tour formed 1990) giving new professionals the opportunity to test themselves: enhance skills and become mentally tough. Perhaps a period spent on the lower level tours prepares professionals to win early? Certainly Marc Warren thinks so: “The Walker Cup and the Challenge Tour told me I can handle pressure …It just seems I look forward to pressure situations” (3).
It is hard to know categorically if the intervention of psychologists has improved scores on the various worldwide tours. In general, players adopt a holistic approach to their preparation, with a support team of experts at their disposal. It is not uncommon for a player to have one or more technical coaches (specialists for swing, putting or short game), a physiotherapist, a fitness trainer, a nutritionist and a psychologist.
Next article: The future of psychology in golf.
1. WOOSNAM, I. (1988) Ian Woosnam’s Golf Masterpieces – Classic tales from the Clubhouse, London, Sidgwick & Jackson.
2. WOODS, T. & EDITORS (2001) How I Play Golf – A Master Class with the World’s Greatest Golfer London Little Brown & Company.
3.EUROPEANTOUR (2006) Warren Triumphs at Barsebäck