For those of us who struggle to control the emotions that grip us during a round of golf, there are are couple of ways we can console ourselves: first, take a look at any number of the world’s best golfers, and see them suffer the same humiliation and ignominy… with the same inability to conceal how they feel.
Second, a number of leading golf psychologists have found that ‘losing it’ on the golf course can actually be a productive reaction, and one that can breathe new life into a rapidly derailing round.
RSNG asked Tyrrell Hatton, and leading psychologist Michael Bader, for the pro’s eye and scientific view on showing your emotions…
Tyrrell Hatton is the go-to golfer for a full gamut of emotions, making TV directors’ jobs a dream. From unrestrained joy to deep-seated sorrow, following the 30-year-old on a round of golf means circumnavigating a range of emotions that wouldn’t look out of place at Oscars night.
“I grew up with the belief it was better to get things out in the open than it was to store them up inside, and that is essentially the way I play golf,” he begins, with a smile. “I think some people believe the way I express myself is for entertainment and for show, but for me it’s a genuine way of dealing with and assessing a shot – it’s actually quite therapeutic.
“I must say too, if I didn’t bend, stretch, contort and shout in the way that I do, I’m not entirely sure how else I would ease away the stress (and sometimes disappointment) of poor shots.”
For me every shot counts, and there is a whole range of reasons why – it’s for me, it’s for my family, it’s for all those who invest in trying to get me to the top
Hatton will regularly believe his temperament has improved, although all too soon images of personal angst are again being beamed to an admiring, empathetic golf audience, who can relate all too easily to the travails on show.
“For me every shot counts, and there is a whole range of reasons why – it’s for me, it’s for my family, it’s for all those who invest in trying to get me to the top. I honestly believe I am more controlled than I once was, and certainly you can’t go round a golf course firing off expletives after every shot; yet I do find it incredible sometimes that some golfers can play awful shots and almost brush off the disappointment with a cursory glance to the ground.
“I could never be that controlled in the immediate aftermath, and if I was, I would be worried where all that negative energy was moving to.”
Letting It All Out
Of course, Tyrrell is far from alone in the way he uses his body to express disappointment. The likes of Billy Horschel – who suffered a club-slamming meltdown at the Masters last year, after which he accepted that “the fire inside sometimes runs hot” – Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Eddie Pepperell, Henrik Stenson, Matt Wallace and Ian Poulter have all let out very public displays of frustration during major tournaments.
On the flip side, the current world number one, Scottie Scheffler, proves himself to be the antithesis. His calmness, to some, is almost unsettling… Hatton included.
“I have spoken to Scottie about good and bad shots, and he takes them all in the same bracket,” he says. “I respect that and I understand the logical path he goes down - when he plays a bad shot he knows a good one is on its way soon.
“However, the fire, anger and passion I take from a bad shot is ultimately the thing that motivates me going forward; so I can take some product, some output from the experience. I’m not sure I could if I was as controlled as Scottie.”
The extra spice that Hatton injects into his round reflects the same bravado with which he carries himself as a person. He’ll talk about drinking, hangovers, about chilling at his apartment, about the social scene on tour – he is someone enveloped in every side of golf’s circuit. “I don’t want to lose that side of me, because it’s a coping mechanism,” he says.
Accepting Things As They Are
Similarly, Horschel’s battle to cool his passions is one that he accepts he will, ultimately, emerge from defeated. At the close of that painful Masters experience, the 35-year-old commented, rather forcefully, “My fire is going to be that way the rest of my life.
“This is going to sound blunt, it’s going to sound bad, but if you don’t like it, I honestly don’t care anymore. I’ve cared enough over the last 13 years of my career to try to please everyone who watches me, and you know what, I can’t do anything more.”
Acceptance is a big thing in golf – acceptance of the fact none of us will ever play a perfect round
Psychologists believe the playing out of scenarios after the event can be helpful. Renowned German behavioral and sports psychologist Michael Bader notes, “Acceptance is a big thing in golf – acceptance of the fact none of us will ever play a perfect round.
“If making it to that point means undergoing a very public therapy process over the course of a few seconds, then most psychologists would suggest it’s better to undertake that than not. Becoming acquainted with a self-critical mind, and working alongside it, is valuable, as is experimenting not in getting rid of negative thoughts, but instead becoming aware of them.”
Attaching Different Meanings To The Game
Bader also points to the idea of attaching a different meaning to golf, rather than just rating the experience purely on score. It could be a gradual betterment of performance, or connecting with nature, or the exhilaration of exercise, or savoring the social aspect.
He says until you get to that point though – and some never will – at least work through the whole scenario in order to emerge out the other side of it.
“If you wish to recreate the shot in your head – let’s say a six-footer that rolls around the rim and ends up four feet away to the right – then examine what led to it, how it played out, and also try to come to a conclusion why. Giving anger and frustration a legitimacy and a resting place is extremely valuable, because it creates acceptance and reason.
Just try to remember there are many things we can take out of the sport, and it’s not all competitive
“In the situations where a golfer doesn’t go through that full process in order to fully allow him or herself to come to terms with why something happened – in the instance where the circle hasn’t been squared – the resentment and sometimes puzzlement can be transferred to the next hole and, ultimately, the rest of the round.
“Just try to remember there are many things we can take out of the sport, and it’s not all competitive.”
Except, for Hatton, it is. Yet both he and Bader agree that a golfer’s window of recovery is very often one that’s left wide open. “I think, ultimately, when I walk away from the course after a poor round, I can quickly come to terms with the fact what I’m experiencing is the very same thing that happens to everyone else,” says the six-time European/PGA Tour winner. “There is a fairness and an equality to that, and no-one is unduly making my life worse at their own expense.
“The reality too is that, where golf is concerned, there is another shot, another hole, another round if you really want… and that offers some immediate replenishment and a chance to make amends. That’s why you can move through this almost schizophrenic situation where you are elated and infuriated and then back to elated, within a few minutes.
“Would I prefer to find a middle level that I could exist at… when playing golf and even in my life outside of the sport? Yes, probably. Yet would I be who I am today? Undoubtedly not.”